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Chicago Cubs: Putting the finger on the pulse of the 2017 club

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Oct 7, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) high fives his team during introductions prior to the National League Wild Card playoff baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) high fives his team during introductions prior to the National League Wild Card playoff baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Cubs are 17-17; The offense, rotation, and bullpen haven’t been particularly great. Yet, it’s not panic time on the North Side.

The 2015 Chicago Cubs entered the season under a wave of cautious excitement, mixed with a tad of obscurity. They were 17-15 on May 12 and wound up winning 97 games.

The 2016 Cubs came into the season as everyone’s favorite World Series pick. There was no hiding from the immediate pressures, and it did not matter. They were 25-8 on May 12. They won 103.

A lot of people probably figured the 2017 Cubs would be much more like that 2016 iteration. Sure, they lost some pieces along the way, including Dexter Fowler, Jason Hammel, and Travis Wood.

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But they also penciled into the lineup a first full season out of franchise all-time postseason home run leader Kyle Schwarber.

Kris Bryant is the MVP. The lineup is stacked, and the rotation entered the season with a Cy Young winner, and two finalists from a season ago. The core was intact, and one year better.

It wasn’t unreasonable to think the Chicago Cubs would play more like their 2016 counterparts than the 2015 version.

Maybe not the same 25-8 start, but certainly not a team closer to .500 as they are now.

Expectations vs. reality

So far, the rotation has had its problems, the offense has been inconsistent, and the bullpen hasn’t always been effective.

Although in reality, the bullpen — 2.86 ERA — has been better through this stretch of the season than it was at this time last year.

The rotation just got back-to-back great outings out of John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks, and the offense, however inconsistent, is sure to break out once and for all.

So has this been a classic post-World Series hangover? Are these the real Cubs? The version that struggled to hit at times in the postseason?

Struggles, however surprising or frustrating, are normal. Even for a young team such as the Cubs. I think that’s the hard part to comprehend. As good as this team ultimately was, and still has the potential to be for a long time, this team was shutout four times in the playoffs.

Before the eventual World Series win, only one other team with at least three shutout blankings went on to win the World Series — 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers. The World Series win for the Cubs wiped away the panic and what-ifs leading up.

However, it doesn’t completely mask the inexperience that has shown through at times to this point. But who knows the real reasons for the team’s struggles.

Time to wake up

Maybe a sense of urgency is missing. But the team has the pieces to right the ship.

"“The reality is, we can’t take anything for granted, and right now, I feel like we do. Honestly, we’re just not playing at our highest level. We have to shake it up, wake up. This will be a good wake-up call for us. We either come to play the right way or we’re going to have a short season.”"

That was Miguel Montero‘s comments following the teams’ Game 1 loss to the Colorado Rockies Tuesday, according to Jesse Rogers, ESPN.

While people are surely agitated and even, maybe, beginning to panic, and while Montero’s comments may make the situation feel dire, the accountability is refreshing.

I look at the fact that the Cubs have been in tighter spots before. If they can overcome adversity in the World Series, surely they can figure it out in May.

A knack for coming back, their seven regular season wins when trailing entering the ninth or later, was second most to Texas in 2016. So far, the Cubs have been able to show that same fighting spirit.

While not ideal having to come back so often in games already, it at least points to the We never quit transcribed on the ring. To know that you can overcome adversity instills confidence, and allows you to look back on overcoming greater odds from before. For players, and yes, even the fans.

We never quit

I’m certainly not worried about slumps through May. It’s also worth mentioning the NL Central is as tight as any division in baseball.

While a .500 Cubs team is less than ideal for many at this point, and while the next surge is surely due sooner than later, it’s not unreasonable to expect the Cubs to get hot and create distance from the nearest competitors.

Next: Cubs to call up Butler for start against the Cards

The 2015 Cubs rallied around Jake Arrieta. The 2016 iteration rallied around the ring. The 2017 version? Theo Epstein has never won back-to-back World Series titles. Imagine if this Cubs team could pull off that feat.

Through it all, the Chicago Cubs have proven they never quit.

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