VOL. 131 | NO. 221 | Friday, November 4, 2016
The Press Box
Cubs’ World Series Victory The Start of a New Narrative
By Don Wade
You can buy into the goat, into the black cat that walked in front of Ron Santo in 1969, into infamous Steve Bartman and, well, into the whole notion that the Cubs were cursed for 108 years, if you wish.
It makes – correction, made – for a compelling story. But the truth is that if current Cubs architect Theo Epstein had happened along into Wrigleyville in, say, the 1960s – he was born in 1973 – history probably would have followed a different course.
The worst news for St. Louis Cardinals fans, of course, is that the Cubs’ dramatic 10-inning, 8-7 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series was not about writing an ending to that 108-year-old tale. It was, rather, a likely early chapter to a continuing saga that will see the Cubs back in the postseason time and again over the next few years.
Epstein, 42, was the wunderkind executive who stopped the misery in Boston in 2004 as the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 hole in the American Championship Series to beat the New York Yankees. And then took a broom to the Cardinals in the World Series.
So Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Cubs, is starting to look and feel like a familiar thorn for Cardinals fans. The same can be said for a collection of crazy talented young players that form the Cubs’ core.
Last year, the Cubs won 97 games and slipped into the playoffs through the wildcard door. This season, they won 103 games and ran away with the National League Central Division. They became the first team to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a World Series since Kansas City did it to the Cardinals in 1985. The Royals won the last two games in K.C.; the Cubs had to win the last two in Cleveland with LeBron James cheering on the home team.
So, the Cubs have been growing up fast. Epstein deservedly wanted to revel in the moment after Game 7, but he also conceded to reporters: “If we stay humble and hungry, it’s going to be a beginning.”
That’s not just champagne-soaked talk.
The Cubs easily have the game’s best infield. Third baseman and presumptive National League MVP Kris Bryant is only 24, first baseman Anthony Rizzo is 27, and up the middle the Cubs are uber-athletic with 22-year-old shortstop Addison Russell and 23-year-old second baseman Javier Baez.
Kyle Schwarber, who served as DH in the World Series, is also just 23 and probably takes over a corner outfield spot. Catcher Willson Contreras is just 24. Even right fielder Jason Heyward, as frustrating as his at-bats were for Cubs fans, is only 27 and perhaps capable of a rebound.
The oldest regular Cubs position player set to return also was the World Series MVP: Ben Zobrist, 35, who was a key free agent signee by Epstein fresh off winning the 2015 World Series crown with the Royals. Epstein also added starting pitchers Jon Lester, who was huge in a relief role in Game 7, and John Lackey, to go with 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and possible 2016 Cy Young winner Kyle Hendricks. Not to mention mercenary, fire-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman in a trade with the Yankees.
Chapman, like center fielder Dexter Fowler, is a free agent and easily could wind up elsewhere. The Cardinals, in fact, may have interest in Fowler to shore up the center of their outfield. Meanwhile, the Cubs can turn to 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr. as their next center fielder.
Arrieta is a free agent after next season, but the Cubs are in remarkably good shape for 2017 and, on balance, set up for a long and prosperous future. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon took a young Tampa Rays team to the World Series in 2008, but this Cubs team is even better-suited to sustain the success.
“There is a better chance of keeping them together just based on finances,” Maddon said.
A better chance of maintaining what Theo Epstein built.
Curses and cats and Bartman be damned.
Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.