It has been 106 years since the Cubs won a World Series — the longest title drought in North American professional sports — and they haven’t appeared in a Fall Classic since 1945.
Which of course brings along the classic question, is this finally the year?
Answering that would require predicting the unpredictable MLB playoff, but the 2015 Cubs could very well be in the conversation when October rolls around. From the starting lineup to the starting rotation to the much-talked-about farm system, there’s talent everywhere in this organization — an organization that has been built and rebuilt and rebuilt again.
Unlike seasons past, there seems to be some actual foundation for Cubs fans’ hopes.
The Cubs’ president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, ended the 83 year World Series drought in Boston, and has amassed a pool of young, cost-controlled players who appear capable of stringing together an extended run of success. His experience in winning two World Series with the Red Sox has Cubs fans hoping that he could reverse another curse, this time on the North Side.
Epstein himself has been attempting to play down the hype surrounding the 2015 season while staying optimistic.
“I said the other day, the hard part is just beginning now. We’ve put ourselves in position to be competitive and win, and that’s what I’m thinking about,” he said in an interview with Chicago Tribune.
Epstein has done a complete rebuild of the Cubs organization, drafting, trading and signing young prospects with plenty of upside, along with acquiring established and talented players like former Boston ace Jon Lester.
He even picked up manager Joe Maddon, who worked miracles with young, low-budget teams in Tampa Bay and seems like the perfect manager to usher the Cubs into this new era of success. Maddon signed a five-year, $25 million contract with Chicago last November after using an opt-out to escape the Rays. With him he brings a loose and fun personality in the clubhouse, which will certainly help the young Cubs roster acclimate to the Major League.
Lester, who won the last game of the 2007 World Series for the Red Sox and pitched a no-hitter in 2008 looked fantastic in a Spring Training tune-up start last Tuesday, throwing 54 pitches and topping out at 93 mph.
Excitement about the upcoming season has been widespread.
“There is lot hype this year as opposed to past years. It is a different feeling, optimistic clubhouse and I think Maddon is going to put the best team out on the field,” said pitcher Brian Schlitter, a member of the 2014 Cubs.
As far as prospects go, the Cubs are well-stocked and hold the best farm system in the MLB, per Baseball America. Polished third-baseman Kris Bryant was ranked the number one prospect in the MLB and should be up in the majors for good around mid-April.
Five other Cubs prospects made Baseball America’s 2015 Top 100 — shortstop Addison Russell (No. 3 overall), outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 12), catcher Kyle Schwarber (No. 19), pitcher C.J. Edwards (No. 38), and outfielder Billy McKinney (No. 83). Schwarber and McKinney aren’t expected to contribute at the major league level this season, but the others should.
They will join an already potent roster, anchored by the talented shortstop Starlin Castro, first-baseman Anthony Rizzo, and pitcher Jake Arrieta.
These factors, along with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ willingness to spend whatever it takes to get the Cubs to the top, as seen through the new video board in left-center, have come together to create a more modern culture on the North Side.
It’s a rebuilding process, and although this year shows promise, success is no guarantee. But this shouldn’t be a problem. Cubs fans are well-schooled in the virtue of patience.