With expectations high – and World Series hangover gone – Cubs take it slow to start
MIAMI – All spring long, similar storylines have come up over and over again concerning Joe Maddon’s 2018 team.
Now well over a year removed from their historic World Series championship, refreshed with some new talent in their starting rotation and bullpen, optimism was at a 2016 level during Spring Training in Mesa in February and March.
Oh, and now that all that attention from the title that might have slowed the team early in 2017 is gone. The phrase “World Series Hangover” should have been coined by the team since it’s been used since middle of last season, but now it appears that the team has figuratively slept it off.
Funny that the club and fans are talking about these things with a team that won the National League Central and advanced to the National League Championship Series for a third-straight season. It’s as if the season wasn’t a success, but after winning a championship, everyone wants that feeling again.
It starts Thursday when the Cubs have a late breakfast 11:40 AM central time start against the Marlins in Miami. It’s the first of 162 games, though many hope that total stretches near 180 by the time the end of October or the beginning of November comes around.
Yet, in true Maddon fashion, the hope is not to overshoot the goal directly in front. It’s a long way to October, no sense in sweating it in March.
“I think we all have a common goal and that’s winning the World Series but that’s a little bit down the road. I think we have to do the small things that Joe is kinda pinpointing for us to do as a team,” said shortstop Addison Russell. “We hit the small steps, day-to-day, and the next thing you know we’ll be halfway done with the season, next thing you know we’ll be, hopefully, looking at a postseason run.”
For the early going, each player can continue their own growth and improvement from a year ago, and that starts with the man who will get it going on the mound Thursday.
Jon Lester can start his road to a return to his 2016 level when he nearly won his first Cy Young Award. By no means was he bad in 2017, but his 13-8, 4.33 ERA were off his pace from the year before as injuries & ill-timed location led to more runs allowed.
He’ll get the first start of the season Thursday as he starts his third opener for the Cubs in four years, one simple goal in mind as he gets 2018 going at Marlins Park.
“Stay away from the dumb pitch at the wrong time. That sounds really simple but a lot of times, it’s hard,” said Lester. “The game speeds up on you when you’re out there and you feel like you make a good pitch, a guy hits a blooper, you’re one pitch away, and all of the sudden you you’re not paying attention to who is up there and you throw a dumb pitch
“I felt like that’s what really hurt me last year, and also command, just not really being able to command the ball to the side of the plate that I wanted it to be on.”
We’ll a new year, a fresh start, and less of a “hangover” in 2018 figures to give him and the rest of his teammates a chance to recapture the glory not too far removed.