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The target on the Cubs' backs just keeps getting bigger and bigger

Manager Joe Maddon wants the Cubs to embrace their status as a World Series favorite this season. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

If the preseason praise keeps gushing, come April, the Cubs might not be able to get their arms around the target they’re embracing so enthusiastically right now.

The latest declaration of love comes from ESPN analyst Jim Bowden, a former Reds and Nationals general manager. He gives the Cubs an A+ for their offseason work, which included the additions of Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist, as well as the re-signing of Dexter Fowler. Nothing surprising in Bowden’s assessment. No grade inflation there.

But then he raises the ante:

“I predict that the Cubs will be the only team to win 100 regular-season games in 2016.’’

All by their lonesome? Nobody else in baseball with triple-digit victories? Whoa.

Now, there are two ways for the Cubs and their fans to look at this:

— Cool, we appear to be that much better than everyone else!

— Man, do we feel alone. So very, very alone.

Manager Joe Maddon’s theme for the season is “Embrace the Target.’’ It’s a recognition that the Cubs, favored by many to win the World Series, will be the hunted this season. If the target is on their backs, Maddon said, they might as well wholly and heartily accept it.

It was a smart move by a man who spends his free time thinking deep thoughts, or at least thinking thoughts that can be turned into slogans. He was letting his young players know right away that they should enjoy the challenge that’s ahead of them.

That doesn’t mean they will, of course. Just because you acknowledge the giant standing in front of you doesn’t make it any less a giant. Besides embracing the bright, blinking target, the Cubs will have to handle the backpack full of rocks they’ll be carrying this season.

But the franchise has seen the alternative too many seasons to count – seasons in which the only thing to look forward to was the following season. I don’t know if Next Year is Here, as the T-shirt insists it is. I do know it’s going to be crazy interesting. And hot. Triple-digit hot.