The Wrigley Field stage swelled this summer with a 103-win team that featured four National League most valuable player and Cy Young award candidates in front of a syrupy environment.
Yet President Theo Epstein envisions the Cubs’ ascent as a gradual construction that started well before the spring arrivals of Ben Zobrist and John Lackey and included the aforementioned Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.
“I don’t look at it as any one offseason helped build this team,” Epstein said. “It really was a process over five offseasons.”
While the Cubs seek sustained success during Epstein’s tenure for at least another five years after his contract extension, there’s a real sense of urgency this October, starting with Friday night’s Game 1 of the National League Division Series against a resilient Giants franchise that has won three World Series titles since 2010.
As dominant as the Cubs were in the second half of their impressive run this season – never losing more than two consecutive games – there’s little time to dwell on any hiccups during this best-of-five series.
One of manager Joe Maddon’s themes conveyed Tuesday to his players was to stay calm and move on from the slightest sign of duress.
“Something is going to go bad,” Maddon said. “It’s how you react to that moment that sets you apart.”
Shortstop Addison Russell missed the clinching game of the 2015 NL Division Series and the entire NL Championship Series because of a hamstring injury. But he understands the importance of staying calm, no matter the severity of a miscue or setback.
“We’ve been in that situation before when things haven’t gone our way,” Russell said. “This is probably a higher-stakes situation. It’s about getting to the next pitch and keeping your emotions under control.”
The Cubs have plenty of World Series-tested leadership from Jon Lester, David Ross and John Lackey, whose victory over Justin Verlander in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series swung the momentum in the Red Sox’s favor en route to a World Series title.
“It’s organic,” Maddon said of the influence Cubs veterans have on the younger players. “It just doesn’t happen.”
While the Cubs had the luxury of resting their regulars and getting work for their relievers and reserves over the last three weeks, the Giants needed to win their final four regular-season games and beat the Mets in a dramatic NL wild-card game Wednesday night just to advance to the NLDS.
Cubs catcher Miguel Montero is aware of the dangers of facing a hot team in the postseason.
“Even if you have a better team by numbers, the other team can get hot,” Montero said.
He was a member of the Diamondbacks in 2007 when they won the NL West before the Rockies swept them in the NLCS.
“The Rockies won 21 out of 22 (to reach the World Series) and were unstoppable (before the Red Sox swept them in the Series).”
After a four-day layoff, the Cubs seek to restore the momentum that enabled them to earn their second consecutive playoff appearance as well as gain home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
And they want to make history, as numerous players expressed the desire to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1908.
That includes Jason Heyward, whose .230 batting average and .325 slugging percentage in his first year of an eight-year, $184 million contract, overshadowed his superb defense in right field. Heyward deflected a question about whether it was time for him to excel.
“I feel like it’s going to be our time to shine,” Heyward said.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.