Cubs News

Expectations, a championship culture and the 2021 Cubs

1 year agoTony Andracki

Two years ago, PECOTA was a household term around the Cubs spring training clubhouse as the Baseball Prospectus projection system became bulletin board material for the team.

Literally.

On the daily spring schedule, manager Joe Maddon often included an inspirational quote. As Cubs camp kicked off in 2019, he wrote in the bottom left corner:

“80-82 5th place in the Central” – PECOTA

That spring, almost every Cubs player was asked about how this computer system projected a last-place finish for a team that had just won 95 games the season prior.

This spring, PECOTA is much higher on the Cubs: projecting an 85-77 season, 3 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central.

But the outside expectations are still serving as bulletin board material for this team.

“I love that — not being picked to win,” Jason Heyward said early in camp.

Projection models are all over the place on the Cubs as we enter the 2021 season. PECOTA predicts 85 wins, USA Today calls for 82 victories, FanGraphs pegs the Cubs for 78, DraftKings set the over/under at 78.5. Oh, and ESPN’s power rankings projected a 91-win season for David Ross’ bunch.

How is there such a wide variance on how the Cubs’ season will play out?

For starters, this might be the toughest MLB season to predict in history. Who knows how the jump from a 60-game season to a regular 162-game slate will affect teams. Will we see more injuries? Will teams have enough depth?

Regardless of what the outside projections are saying, the Cubs have their own thoughts and beliefs internally.

“Our expectations typically always exceed everybody else’s expectations of ourselves,” Jake Arrieta said. “That won’t change. We think very highly of the group that we have.

“We’re extremely well-coached. We have a staff that provides us with really detailed, in-depth information that we can use to plan for every series. And we have the ability — there’s no doubt about that. I don’t even know what the expectations are, but I know that ours are really high.”

Nearly every team enters spring training with the same optimistic mindset.

But the Cubs are coming off a division title and have a highly competitive manager who won two championships as a player. Plus, they have a team full of players who have not only won before but are highly motivated for their own personal reasons as they play for their next contract.

As the Cubs rounded out their roster over the winter, a history of winning was clearly a priority for Jed Hoyer’s front office.

Joc Pederson won the World Series last fall while Jake Marisnick (2017 Astros), Matt Duffy (2014 Giants), Brandon Workman (2013, 2018 Red Sox) all bring the same pedigree. Eric Sogard, Shelby Miller, Austin Romine and Jonathan Holder all have postseason experience and the Cubs also brought back veterans Cameron Maybin and Pedro Strop.

When Maddon took the manager job and Ross signed a free-agent deal along with Jon Lester, the trio teamed up to help change the culture at 1060 W. Addison St.

That winning way culminated in three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and the incredible 2016 World Series run.

There has been quite a bit of turnover since then, but the winning culture remains and it was immediately palpable to newcomers in Cubs camp this spring.

“The feel in the clubhouse has been definitely different than what I’m used to,” Trevor Williams said. “I am an outlier by not having a World Series ring in that room. There’s a lot of guys who have multiple World Series rings in that room, including the coaching staff.

“So the first thing I noticed was that there was a demand to win and there was an expectation that we were showing up every day to get better and to win. … I was blown away at how much winning was expected and demanded. That’s not a hyperbole — that’s something I really felt as soon as I got to the clubhouse.”

Ross believes part of that culture is openly discussing World Series expectations in everyday conversation.

Every spring training for more than a half-decade, the Cubs have made no secret about what they’re trying to accomplish as a group.

“When the expectations and the workload and the preparation in February and March are September- and October-based, I think that’s different than some other places that I was a part of as my career evolved,” Ross said. “Preparing for the long haul — I don’t know that every team is doing that in my experience.”

While those outside the organization may not be picking this team to claim a second straight division title, the Cubs know they’re in control of writing their own story for the 2021 MLB season.

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