PITTSBURGH — Remember the 2015 Cubs? Boy, what a bunch of bums they were.
Just ask them.
“I certainly think this team is a whole lot better,” second-year star Kris Bryant said before Tuesday’s 6-4 victory overthe Pirates.
Last year’s Cubs were the hottest team in baseball down the stretch, with the good times rolling all the way through to the NLCS. True, if you look at each team through Sept. 27 of its respective season, the 2016 Cubs are 10 games better in the win-loss department. But what if this year’s team and last year’s team met in a space-time-continuum-defying seven-game series?
Wouldn’t it at least be a fair fight?
“We would crush that team,” Bryant said.
Guess that’s a no.
Actually, there are those who aren’t as quick to dismiss a hard-charging bunch that won 45 of 63 games to close the regular season and had the temerityto wipe the higher-seeded Pirates and Cardinals out of the playoffs.
“I think it would go seven games,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Obviously, this is a better team, but it’s not all about that. Last year’s team was special, too. We came to play like we do this year.”
Reliever Travis Wood, who has been with the Cubs longer than any of his teammates, concurred with Montero.
“There’d be a battle, I think. We were a great team last year,” he said. “Although, we definitely have improved.”
At what, exactly?
“I guess at everything.”
Gee, is that all?
According to Bryant, all you have to do is “just look up and down” at the roster to see a vastly improved version of what the Cubs were in 2015.
He’s probably right about that. The additions of big-time veterans Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Aroldis Chapman clearly took the team’s talent to a different level. Bryant has progressed from N.L. Rookie of the Year to leading MVP candidate. Shortstop Addison Russell is much more dynamic in Year 2 than he was as a rookie. First baseman Anthony Rizzo is better than ever.
Then there’s the Cubs’ ridiculously good defense, which at times this season has been the talk of baseball.
Man, where does it stop?
“The list of improvements? It just goes on and on and on,” Russell said. “All facets of the game have been improved. And it’s not just the talent we have or the individual improvements guys have made. We’re also improved mentally. We were good last year, but I don’t really think it’s close between the two teams.”
Infielder Javy Baez maintains that the single biggest difference between the teams is an above-the-neck matter.
“Last year, we worked so hard to get to the playoffs, but then it was like it didn’t really matter if we made it tothe World Series,” he said. “This year, we [have qualified for] the playoffs, but to us it feels like the beginning. The only thing that matters is the World Series.”
Oh, and for those of you scoring at home: Baez believes the 2016 Cubs would sweep their 2015 selves.
Manager Joe Maddon has a soft spot for his first Cubs team, which wassaid by many to have arrived a year ahead of schedule. Maddon describes the fact the team squeezed 97 victories out of the regular season as “kind of crazy, actually.”
So let’s turn the question around and ask it a different way: Is there anything — anything at all — the 2015 Cubs were better at than the 2016 Cubs?
“I don’t think so,” Maddon said after roughly a three-second pause in which he appeared to give the matter serious thought.
More likely, he was just being diplomatic.
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