Look­ing to re­peat

Cubs loaded, ready for World Se­ries ti­tle de­fence

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY JAY CO­HEN

Kris Bryant is back. Same for An­thony Rizzo and Jon Lester, too. Even 1908 is back in the pic­ture.

That was the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Se­ries be­fore Bryant and com­pany ended the drought last Novem­ber, beat­ing the Cleve­land In­di­ans in a Game 7 clas­sic. Now 1908 is the last time the fran­chise re­peated as cham­pi­ons — and the goal be­gin­ning next week when the Cubs’ pitch­ers and catch­ers re­port to spring train­ing.

“I think we have the right group here that guys will just be able to re­al­ize what we did and how spe­cial it was, but just to re­al­ize how much bet­ter it would be to sus­tain that suc­cess and do it again the next year,” Bryant said. “I think we’re hun­grier than ever and we would love to be that team that goes back to back and I think we all have the right mind­set.”

No ma­jor league team has won con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onships since the New York Yan­kees from 1998-2000. But the Cubs re­turn a loaded lineup, led by slug­gers Bryant and Rizzo, and solid pitch­ing staff, with Lester fronting one of the ma­jors’ best ro­ta­tions. Kyle Sch­war­ber and his com­pact lefty swing could put to­gether a big year if he can stay healthy, and the re­fur­bished bullpen in­cludes Wade Davis and Koji Ue­hara af­ter a pair of off-sea­son moves.

Per­haps most im­por­tant, no more ques­tions about fa­mous curses, and the Cubs be­gin this year with the ex­pe­ri­ence of a cham­pi­onship run.

“I think you gain sort of an in­ner con­fi­dence,” pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions Theo Ep­stein said, “a de­fault be­lief that you and your team­mates know how to win and through hard times you just have a faith in get­ting back to what got you there, know­ing that you’re good enough not only to com­pete, but to win, and to win the whole thing. That kind of con­fi­dence is hard to cre­ate.”

A few more things to watch at Cubs camp in Mesa, Ari­zona:

NEW LOOK

Davis is ex­pected to take over at closer for Aroldis Chap­man, who re­turned to the New York Yan­kees for an $86 mil­lion, five-year con­tract dur­ing free agency. Davis was ac­quired in a De­cem­ber trade with Kansas City for out­fielder Jorge Soler. The 31-year-old right-han­der had 27 saves and a 1.87 ERA for the Roy­als, but also spent time on the dis­abled list with a fore­arm in­jury and was lim­ited to 43 1/3 in­nings.

If Davis fal­ters or gets hurt again, man­ager Joe Mad­don could turn to Ue­hara or Hec­tor Ron­don. Ue­hara, who turns 42 on April 3 and was side­lined by a strained right pec­toral mus­cle for part of his fi­nal sea­son with Bos­ton, has 93 ca­reer saves, and Ron­don closed for Chicago be­fore it traded for Chap­man last year.

THEY’RE SET

With Ad­di­son Rus­sell, Ben Zo­brist and Javier Baez, the Cubs have an en­vi­able group of mid­dle in­field­ers. But they also have to find room for every­one. Zo­brist likely will see time at the cor­ner out­field spots, and Baez could play all over the in­field once again.

THEY’RE NOT

The No. 5 slot in the ro­ta­tion is up for grabs af­ter the Cubs de­clined Ja­son Ham­mel’s $12 mil­lion op­tion . Mike Mont­gomery, who was ac­quired in a July trade with Seat­tle and got the fi­nal out of the World Se­ries, is the favourite for the job, but vet­eran left-han­der Brett An­der­son, right-han­der Ed­die But­ler and lefty Rob Zas­tryzny also could pitch their way into the mix.

ON DECK

Sch­war­ber made a sur­pris­ing re­turn for the World Se­ries af­ter hurt­ing his left knee last April. But he hasn’t played he field in a game since the in­jury. How the Cubs use him in camp — he ap­pears tick­eted for left, but he came up as a catcher and still likes the po­si­tion — is worth watch­ing this spring.

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In this July 2016 file photo, Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant scores on a sin­gle dur­ing the eighth in­ning of a game against the At­lanta Braves in Chicago.

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