With all of their awards, young Cubs bear heavy burden of expectations for 2016

SHARE With all of their awards, young Cubs bear heavy burden of expectations for 2016

Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo celebrates after hitting a home run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the sixth inning of Game 4 in baseball’s National League Division Series, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)


No Cub won the American League Most Valuable Player Award?

Outrageous! Who cares that the Cubs are in the National League?

The Cubbies are such a feel-good, future-is-ours story that you expected them to run the table on awards.

Why not? They already had won the NL Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant), Manager of the Year (Joe Maddon) and Cy Young (Jake Arrieta) awards.

It was irrelevant that they finished with the third-best record in their division, got swept by the Mets in the NL Championship Series and capped off their 107th year without a World Series crown, the longest streak of failure for any continuously operating pro team in any sport on the planet.

They’re the Cubs, and they try so hard. And they exceed expectations (when the expectations are low). And we love them.

So reward them!

Alas, not everything.

Blue Jays slugger Josh Donaldson won the AL MVP, and Nationals superstar Bryce Harper won the award in the NL. Both of them were worthy champs, though Angels phenom Mike Trout, who won the AL MVP last year, is always — at least in this writer’s opinion — the best guy on the field. Consider that Trout is the only player other than Barry Bonds and Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Stan Musial to finish in the top two for MVP voting four consecutive years. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo finished fourth.

So this is all subjective, all up for debate.

I could ask you how manager Terry Collins feels now, having gotten smoked — 18 first-place votes to three — by Maddon, a wonderful fellow whose boys got crushed by Daniel Murphy and Collins’ Mets four games to none when it mattered.

And the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw might be a little upset with Arrieta’s win. No complaints over Bryant’s win, however. If the guy had been brought up to the majors at the start of the season, instead of being held back by the Cubs for financial reasons, he would have had more than 100 RBI (instead of 99), which is incredible for any player, ever.

So it goes.

And the thing to remember is that with such awards for excellence comes the flip-side burden of continuing such greatness and even getting better. For a kid such as Harper, who’s only 23, and the youngest unanimous MVP in baseball history, this should be no problem.

Maybe you most remember Harper for being the guy teammate Jonathan Papelbon briefly strangled in a late-September dugout meltdown that was emblematic of the Nationals’ failure and dysfunction. But he’s the real deal, on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 because of his talent.

Donaldson? Maybe not. Trout should get there or maybe one of Donaldson’s teammates, such as Jose Bautista, will or Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. Lots of possibilities.

But what of the Cubs and their expectations?

In 2016, we’ll figure Bryant for 30 home runs and 110 RBI, Arrieta for 20-plus wins and 220 or more innings and Maddon to guide his ballclub closer to the promised land, if not to the big title itself.

Much depends on how the Cubs’ front office fills in the gaps at starting pitching this winter, and how youngsters Addison Russell, Javy Baez and Jorge Soler progress. Somebody has to figure out where lefty hitter Kyle Schwarber can play on defense and how the Mets and, oh, yes, Cardinals can be overcome.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny can’t be thrilled with all the Cubs hoopla, seeing as how he led his always-dominant club to a league-high 100 wins and did it with all kinds of starters out with injuries.

Harper, as is the trend these days, accepted his announcement with two little kids on his knees, one of them, his nephew, sporting an identical retro-Beach Boys surfer hairdo like Harper’s.

‘‘Definitely trying not to get emotional,’’ Harper said, handing off the kids before something weird happened, like getting sprayed with champagne by family members, as was the case with Arrieta and son.

But the real emotion is all about the Cubs, and where people think they’re headed after 2015, after all the trophies they just reaped.

Said MLB Network commentator and recent Hall of Fame inductee John Smoltz, sincerely, ‘‘I think they win the World Series.’’

He was talking about this coming season. Like less than a year from now.

Oh, boy. Oh, boy, indeed.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

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