As Spring Training gets underway, Joe Maddon already has a motto for the 2016 Cubs: “Embrace the target.”
The Cubs have historically been a different kind of target, as lovable loser jokes have long been lobbed at the concentric red circles painted on their collective backside. But things are clearly different now. It’s a new era, filled with massive expectations for the present and the future.
Coming off a 97-win season, the Cubs would have been set up very nicely had they brought the same exact team back from 2015. Instead, they brought in Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, Adam Warren, and others to an already loaded squad.
Could the Cubs win 100 games for the first time since 1935? It’s possible, but that’s not the target Joe Maddon is referring to either.
“Our goal is to win the last game of the baseball season,” Maddon said.
I know win-total predictions are fun to make in February. Like many others, I see the Cubs somewhere in the neighborhood of 95-100 wins myself. But the Cubs’ goal has nothing to do with their overall record and it has everything to do with 8 more wins than a year ago.
The Cubs could win fewer regular season games than 2015 and still be a better, perhaps even much better, overall team. It’s also highly unlikely that the Cardinals and Pirates will both contend for triple-digit W’s again this year, though both teams will still be a challenge.
Theo Epstein has no problem with the big expectations for 2016, either.
“We take the projections of us winning as a compliment,” Epstein said. “Fundamentally we trust the character of the players, and the culture of the organization. It’s because of that culture we’re not overly concerned with being overconfident.”
As fun as 2015 was, this year’s team has a chance to be even more fun to watch. A division title and home-field advantage seem more realistic for 2016, making each and every game more important than Cub fans are used to. This team won’t sneak up on anybody, making Joe Maddon’s motto an important thing to remember every day.
If baseball has taught us anything, it’s that there is no such thing as a guarantee. Injuries, slumps, bad luck, and a whole host of other issues can derail a team’s hopes for October. But if you’re looking at a team’s chances at the start of Spring Training, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs not putting together a fantastic year.
Past Cubs teams haven’t handled the expectations very well, in the few years they were given any. But those teams didn’t have Theo Epstein, and they didn’t have Joe Maddon. With these guys in charge and a roster oozing with talent, maybe this is the group to get it done. Maybe this is the group that will embrace the target.