In his first season as Cubs manager, Joe Maddon took Chicago from 73 wins to 97 wins, from a six-year playoff absence to the NLCS.
Yes, the goal last year was getting the bullseye back. The goal this year is keeping it.
It all started last August, when Maddon, in the midst of a magical feel-good season, told the media that his team hadn’t accomplished anything yet.
“Everybody in Chicago – Cubs fans, Cubs players – listened,” former World Series champion and current Cubs analyst Todd Hollandsworth said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “(Maddon said), ‘We got to go through St. louis. It’s been their division for quite some time.’ The Cubs responded, they came out, they played well. Now the spring-training message has been very similar: ‘Listen, guys, we accomplished a lot last year, but we missed our mark. Our mark was the World Series. Our mark was winning the World Series.’ Expectations for the Cubs last year was 80, 82 wins. They went out and won 97. You say, ‘Well how are you going to live up to that?’ Well, you don’t worry about the total package. You worry about the moment. That’s what Joe preaches. He says, ‘Embrace the bullseye, embrace the moment, embrace who you are. You’ve got unfinished work here.’”
The Cubs bolstered their roster with several big-name players this offseason, including Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey, who, at 37, may have been the most valuable addition, especially given the Cubs’ overall youth. Lackey won’t win 20 games, but he’ll provide toughness, guile and grit. He’ll be a leader.
“Lackey, to me, was the guy,” Hollandsworth said. “With all things being equal, Lackey is the definition of a bulldog. That’s what gets him through. You don’t gravitate toward his stuff any longer. What you know about the guy is he does not back down from the big moment. He embraces it as well as anybody in our sport. For a young team or even a young staff, that’s exactly what you’re targeting. He’s going to not only rub off on the younger players on this team, but he gives you that confidence. He’s a great guy to go to.”
So is Anthony Rizzo and, believe it or not, David Ross, the Cubs’ 38-year-old backup catcher. Teammates call him “Grandpa,” but Ross, who won a World Series with Boston in 2013, is a great glue guy to have on the roster.
For the Cubs, though, leadership will come in many different forms from many different places.
“I don’t think this is the team where you say, ‘Who’s the guy? Who do you go to?’” Hollandsworth said. “I think when it comes to the everyday player, it’s probably Anthony Rizzo, but this is a group effort. It always has been. The biggest voice in the room still is Joe Maddon.”