Look. You don’t need me to tell you that the last year has left a long-lasting impact on not only the game of baseball, but the world, as a whole. In the United States alone, a half-million individuals have lost their lives to COVID-19, masks are as common as pants and remote work and learning is a new norm.
So it makes sense we’re all even more excited than normal to see the Chicago Cubs back at spring training in Arizona, mere days from their first game. Slated for a full 162-game schedule after playing an abbreviated 60-game calendar in 2020, there will be baseball for the next seven months – a welcome sight to all.
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Despite the abnormalities that met the team both on and off the field last season, Chicago came away with the NL Central crown – followed by a prompt exit from the postseason at the hand of the surging Miami Marlins. From Manager David Ross to seasoned veterans like Anthony Rizzo – everybody is looking for more ‘normalcy’ this time around.
"“It’s just different and we’re such creatures of habit,” Rizzo told Marquee Sports Network. “So that was definitely a variable I personally take into when I look at all the numbers – the good ones and the bad ones – just making sure when you put it all together. It’s not an excuse, but there’s a reason why it happened and you gotta make sure that you’re getting ahead of that so you’re not falling behind.”"
Although his struggles were more mitigated than some of his teammates, Rizzo wasn’t his typical offensive self last year. Still, he finished the year as an above-average player in terms of both OPS+ and wRC+. He’s now heading into a contract year, so getting back to his 30/100-type output is more important than ever for the three-time All-Star.
Cubs know they’ll only go as far as the core carries them
The two guys who need bounceback performances in the worst way are Rizzo’s fellow infielders Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, both of whom are also entering their final year of team control. By most measures, Baez was the worst offensive player in MLB last season and Bryant hasn’t been at 100 percent in what feels like years.
Now, it’s up to both of those guys to return to form and lead a Cubs offense that ranked 21st in OPS, 20th in runs and 18th in on-base percentage last season.
"“Especially after such a unique season that was last year, I think a lot of guys are looking forward to hitting that reset button and going out and proving who they are to everybody,” Ross said this week at camp."