By Bob McManaman, azcentral sports
Joe Maddon told his team to “embrace the target.” And the Chicago Cubs did.
Reeling off 103 regular-season wins and battling back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians in a wild Game 7, the Cubs captured their first World Series championship since 1908.
“Now we’re just a really good baseball team,” General Manager Jed Hoyer told CSN Chicago. “We’re not a team that has a curse or issues winning. Now we’re a world champion, and we move forward. Next year when a game is close in the playoffs … nobody is going to worry about something bizarre happening. We’ve been through this. We’ve won.”
The Cubs’ pitching staff led Major League Baseball with a 3.15 ERA and 15 shutouts, and the offense scored the second-most runs (808) in the National League. With the majority of their team back in 2017, the Cubs return as World Series favorites.
There are plenty of stars to watch on this team, but when you check out the Cubs you’d be wise to focus on Kris Bryant, who followed up winning National League Rookie of the Year in 2015 by winning NL Most Valuable Player this past season at age 24.
Bryant hit .292 with 39 home runs and 102 RBIs and led the NL with a 7.67 WAR and 121 runs scored. It isn’t just his keen sense of hitting that makes Bryant such a kingpin to the Cubs’ success. It’s his ability to play defense virtually anywhere his team needs him to play.
Bryant has only scratched the surface, which is scary.
The biggest trick for the Cubs will be finding enough at-bats for young slugger Kyle Schwarber, who is a defensive liability in a very crowded outfield.
Center field will be manned by the lefty-righty combination of newly acquired Jon Jay and youngster Albert Almora Jr. Jason Heyward struggled mightily at the plate, but was rated as the best defensive right fielder in the National League. That leaves left field, where Schwarber may have to split time with Ben Zobrist now that Javier Baez seemingly has locked down second base.
Schwarber, who returned from a devastating knee injury to hit .412 and post a .971 OPS in the World Series, is too valuable to sit on the bench. But he’ll have to improve his defensive play to validate an everyday role.
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Speaking of defense, you won’t find many much better at covering his position than Baez. He has amazing instincts, arm strength and alarmingly quick hands. The offensive potential is there for Baez, 24, who hit .273 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs last year, but he has a tendency to over swing and flail on too many pitches.
Manager: Joe Maddon.
Last season’s record: 103-58.
Big changes: The Cubs decided to move on without two key components – closer Aroldis Chapman and outfielder Dexter Fowler – but it was cost effective as Chapman banked a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees and Fowler got five years and $85 million from the Cardinals. Chicago acquired a new closer, Wade Davis, from the Royals for Jorge Soler.