There’s only one way the Cubs can top 2016 season

SHARE There’s only one way the Cubs can top 2016 season

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2016, file photo, the Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) ORG XMIT: NY365

Here’s how the Cubs could top last season’s success: Win the World Series again, but this time at home.

Let the madness begin inside Wrigley Field after a seven-game thriller — not in Cleveland or some other American League city, where most of the fans would wander off silently, as they did last November at Depressive, excuse me, Progressive Field.

What else is left?

Cubs president Theo Epstein is officially the greatest leader in the free world. (He’s always been the smartest.)

Kris Bryant, 25, is America’s sweetheart, on every cover of every magazine published. Well, he’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated again, for the fifth time. (This time he’s finishing his powerhouse swing, smiling up at the SI camera as if being tickled from behind by Anthony Rizzo.)

That smile — it never ends. Maybe it was heightened by the headline of Tom Verducci’s accompanying story: “HOW PERFECT IS KRIS BRYANT?” Perfect being an absolute, Bryant must be plausibly supernatural.

Then there’s Rizzo. The first baseman is only 27, has 134 home runs and 425 RBI, and he doesn’t get the same kind of postseason love that, say, Kyle “Have You Ever Seen Babe Ruth and Me in the Same Room?” Schwarber gets.

Young lefty monster Schwarber — who has played a total of 71 regular-season major-league games but has a .364 average, five homers and 10 RBI in the postseason — has endorsements and kudos galore. When he came back from knee surgery and spanked the rally-starting single in the 10th inning of Game 7 against the Indians, after the rain delay and Jason Heyward’s Knute Rockne speech, he became lore.

Not to get biblical here, but only Lazarus came back quicker from a worse injury. St. Schwarbs it is.

The rest of the team is still loaded, from star pitching on down to lessers such as young catcher Willson Contreras (tearing up Cactus League pitching) and young center fielder Albert Almora (defensive ace).

The Cubs tore off so many old tarps covering so many curses last season that it’s hard to think of what they can improve on, and it’s hard to think of what can go better for fans — except that home-field celebration.

What does come to mind are all the ways things could explode.

One thing’s for sure: The Cubs are the hunted, not the hunters. How are they going to like that?  No one alive can remember when it was that way before — that is, 1909, the year after the Cubs’ previous World Series crown.

And how about right fielder Heyward? The Cubs won despite him abruptly losing the ability to hit. One hopes that was a bat-induced hiccup, not a plague.

The pitching staff was so good in 2016 that for a while, the Cubs had three pitchers — Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks — in valid contention for the National League Cy Young Award. They finished second, third and ninth in the voting, respectively.

Still, individual awards like that don’t mean much; it’s how you come together as a team. (Consider that Cy Young winner Max Scherzer played for an underachieving Washington Nationals team that lost in the NL Division series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.) Nobody played better as a team than the Cubs in 2016.

That’s where it gets tricky.  There’s no overachieving when you’re already the best. Any little thing can throw you off your game.

Imagine a, uh, how about a black squirrel scampering into the Cubs’ dugout just as a player pulls a muscle, or maybe a fan reaches over the wall and interferes with an outfielder’s catch? Does anybody freak out? Does manager Joe Maddon easily handle the quirks and slumps and tough losses that are part of the game, as he did last season?

I’m concerned that departed reliever Aroldis Chapman, the rent-a-fireballer who closed down many late games, can’t be replaced. And departed center fielder Dexter Fowler sure was a solid piece, wasn’t he?

Do you remember the Cubs started 25-6 last year? That is absurd. They had a 14-1 stretch in late July into August. They went 16-5 from Aug. 16 to Sept. 5.  They went 11-6 in the postseason. Crazy.

Repeat? Tough order.

But the Wrigley-fest is something to shoot for. And we know Theo, like Stephen Hawking, is way ahead of us, a commander of the universe, comprehending all.

Onward, men!

Follow me on Twitter @RickTelander.



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