Chicago Cubs: Team should own underdog moniker

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

You may not have noticed lately, but the latest projections have not looked too kindly on the Chicago Cubs on the eve of Spring Training.

The Chicago Cubs are projected to finish with a 79-83 record according to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA rankings, and dead last in the National League Central.

Although FanGraphs projects the Cubs to win the division, it is clear that a general cloud of doubt surrounds the team this season.

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A perceived feeling of inactivity from Chicago’s front office paired with the undeniable improvements made especially by the likes of the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds have many wondering whether the Cubs can come out on top of what may be the deepest division in all of baseball.

And yet, the notion of being an “underdog” is something this Cubs team should embrace with open arms.

Chicago’s young stars have experienced essentially nothing but winning and success since they arrived in the big leagues.

Realistically, Anthony Rizzo is the only holdover from the Cubs rebuild that began in earnest when they acquired him from the San Diego Padres in 2012.

But Rizzo is the only player on the roster that has experienced extended periods of losing and letdowns with the organization.

So for everyone else, winning has become the expectation. Hell, why would that not be the bar after 387 wins in four years (the most in the bigs), not to mention three consecutive NLCS appearances and a World Series title?

For all the success, last year’s loss in the Wild Card–and Theo Epstein’s subsequent remarks–made it clear that the tone in the locker room has to change.

Every win is earned, nothing is given. Jon Lester could not have said it better:

This is the first time this Cubs team is facing questions about their ability to handle adversity. And, in all honesty, it could be the perfect storm… if the Cubs take the challenge head-on.

For all of Epstein’s verbiage about internal improvements, everyone else in the baseball community only continues to stoke the motivational fires.

Sure, they are best friends, but Kris Bryant should be ticked that so many fans seem to think that Bryce Harper is the only answer to last year’s hitting woes. After all, he is a former MVP and one of the best players in the entire league in terms of fWAR since 2015.

Yu Darvish should equally be infuriated by the masses questioning his durability and chalking up his contract with the likes of Jason Heyward‘s in terms of ill-advised spending.

Willson Contreras looked like the best catcher in the league in 2017 before being overwhelmed and outmatched at the plate by the end of last season. In turn, J.T. Realmuto has surpassed him as the best catcher in the National League.

Everyone on the team needs to be held more accountable:

And those are just a few of the many examples.

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You would think the Cubs would have been torn asunder based on their PR nightmares with Joe Ricketts and the handling of Addison Russell‘s domestic-abuse case. They certainly have seemed to pay for it in the projections.

But maybe this vulnerability is exactly what this team needs. Maybe, just maybe, the “fear of the underdog” will help them reach the mountaintop once again.