MESA, Ariz. — Some new faces are roaming the complex at Sloan Park these days, but even after some subtractions this offseason, the Cubs’ core of shortstop Javy Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo remains.
After the Cubs were swept by the Marlins in two games in the postseason in 2020, their players were almost in shock that their season had ended so abruptly.
But after the Cubs’ disappointing finishes in the last three seasons, should people still believe in this core, which had so much early success?
Rizzo knows how much is riding on this season and said it’s time for the group to put up or shut up.
‘‘I think we’ve got to go out and earn it and prove it,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘I don’t think anyone should [just] believe in it. We haven’t done what we were capable of doing the last few years.
‘‘Last year hit hard just because of how connected our team was and that whole COVID year. Just the connection, it was so strong. It just hurts ending your season like that after two games. But it’s up to us to go out and prove it every day, every year. Just because you do one thing one year doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anything the next year.’’
Baseball always will be a performance-driven industry, and despite all of the outside factors surrounding the Cubs in the last few seasons, the fact is that they haven’t produced together in some time.
Whether it was COVID-19, the absence of video during games or a combination of several factors, the Cubs’ primary run producers never found a way to get on track in 2020.
‘‘Looking at it a little bit through a different lens for me and for us, each guy is unique,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘Each guy is different. Each guy performs differently, whether that’s a guy that goes up there and sees a lot of pitches and grinds an at-bat or has a good two-strike approach or guys up there a little more free-swinging and they want to get their A-swing off on 0-0. How does that couple with these guys trying to play team baseball, winning baseball?
‘‘I think sometimes those lines can get blurred. So the message for me is each individual guy gets back to being themselves. These guys are such pros that they’re always willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the group, and I think sometimes selfishness in this game can be a good thing.’’
When the Cubs were at their best, their core didn’t just include Baez, Bryant and Rizzo. But because of the offensive drop-off, other members of the core, such as outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr., are now elsewhere.
The onus remains on Baez, Bryant and Rizzo to find themselves to help the Cubs compete for a National League Central title. As the season plays out, it might be the difference between making another postseason run or saying more goodbyes when the trade deadline nears in July.
‘‘There’s a lot of guys that are coming off the years that they [had],’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘You hear all this stuff, [but] once you get in this clubhouse and in there with the boys, it’s just nothing better. There’s no better feeling, and all of that outside noise just goes away.
‘‘Being experienced with all the outside noise, as all of us are, you can either choose to read into everything that’s written or not. But we control the narrative. We control how we go about our business every day.’’