By Bob McManaman, azcentral sports
It took 108 agonizing years for the Chicago Cubs to win their third World Series in franchise history. It’ll take them only eight months if they can prove they’re capable of capturing their fourth.
“We’re looking forward to 2017,” Cubs owner Tom Ricketts told fans last month at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand hotel. “I think that anyone who knows Cubs history knows that when the Cubs win a World Series, they always win again the next year.”
The Cubs won back-to-back championships in 1907-08 and the process of beginning their quest to repeat as World Series champs tops the list of several storylines to watch as spring training gets started in Arizona with the 15 teams participating in Cactus League play.
Of course, it won’t be a cakewalk for the Cubs, even though they are the favorites to win another title. Remember how the words “organizational advocacy” never worked for the Diamondbacks under the Josh Burns’ regime? Well, according to Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Cubs, neither will “organizational arrogance” benefit the Cubbies.
“There are things that get in the way,” Epstein explained to reporters about how difficult it is to repeat as champions. “When you win, you get pulled in a lot of different directions. There can be a tendency, no matter the character, to start thinking about yourself a little bit. We have to really work hard – we all do – to avoid any type of organizational arrogance, any sense of entitlement.
“… I don’t worry about our group, but some teams after winning it, other things get in the way of that bond.”
Baseball fans won’t just be filling the stands at Sloan Park in Mesa to catch a glimpse of National League MVP Kris Bryant, fellow slugger Anthony Rizzo and a stellar starting rotation featuring Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey.
There are enough uber-talented superstars at all four corners of the Cactus League for all kinds of baseball fans to follow.
Let’s start in Tempe, where Angels center fielder Mike Trout not only has a chance to win his third American League MVP before the age of 26, but the potential to become just the fifth member of baseball’s exclusive 40-40 club. Only Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006) have hit at least 40 home runs and stolen 40 or more bases in the same season.
It’s been five years since anyone pulled off the 30-30 and Trout was one of the two players – Ryan Braun was the other – who did it in 2012. Since then, Trout has averaged 33 homers, 96 RBIs, 116 runs, 28 steals and a .310 batting average.
Over in the West Valley, there is plenty of intrigue as well.
In Goodyear, everyone wants to know if the Indians can duplicate their 2016 performance and get back to the World Series, where they had three chances to finish off the Cubs this past fall. Cleveland is loaded once again, featuring a devastating rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer and a dominating bullpen led by closer Cody Allen and set-up man Andrew Miller.
At Camelback Ranch-Glendale, all eyes will be on the Dodgers and left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who has a shot to win his fourth NL Cy Young Award in seven seasons. Los Angeles, which lost the NL Championship Series to the Cubs in six games, is viewed as a top World Series candidate and could ruin the Cubs’ chances at repeating this year.
In Surprise, the Royals and Rangers will be compelling teams to watch this spring.
Texas features one of the game’s greats, third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is 58 hits shy of reaching 3,000 for his career.
The Royals, World Series champs in 2015, will look to contend again in a year in which the core of their group – including infielders Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain – are all set to hit free agency after this season.
There’s always something interesting brewing in Scottsdale during March, and one of the primary focal points at Salt River Fields will be keeping tabs on sluggers Nolan Arenado of the Rockies and Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks. The former led the NL in home runs and RBIs for a second straight season in 2016 and the latter has emerged as a regular contender for MVP consideration.
And, as always, there are the San Francisco Giants, winners of three World Series titles in the past seven years. The bullpen let them down after an NL-best 57-33 start, but after tweaking that unit, the core of the group returns in 2017, including a star rotation led by Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija.