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What the Cubs will remember most about 2023 season

8 months agoTony Andracki

As the Cubs were officially eliminated from postseason contention in the middle of Saturday’s game in Milwaukee, a flood of complicated emotions struck each member of the team.

On the one hand, this team came up short of their goals and ultimately did not make the playoffs — let alone put together a long postseason run.

On the other hand, a new winning standard was set within the organization and many around the team — from players to coaches to front office members to ownership to fans to media — enjoyed watching this season.

Simply put, it was a fun year of baseball. There were a lot of thrilling moments and the Cubs gave fans an awful lot to cheer for throughout the season.

The players felt it, too. From the outset of Spring Training, this team continually talked about how they felt it was a special group that came together in a rare way.

“It was a big deal for us this year creating a winning culture and a close-knit group and we did that,” said Yan Gomes, a 12-year MLB veteran. “This is some of the most fun I’ve had being a part of an organization and an amazing group of guys.”

What made is such a special group?

“We made it really important in the beginning of the season — we talked about it endlessly — what it’s going to looking like inside this clubhouse,” Gomes said. “No matter what, anybody can turn to each other and turn to one another.

“The accountability — we held it to a high standard. We’re turning a corner. This organization wants to win and I think everyone’s buying into it. It was a big deal and we made it important this year.”

Up until 2023, Cody Bellinger had spent his entire professional career in the Dodgers organization. This was his first taste of a new team and a brand new clubhouse.

But he came away with an extremely good impression.

“We just have a bunch of really good people and great coaches,” Bellinger said. “We have so many good baseball players. It was so fun to just go out every single day to compete with these guys. It was fun to be around. I had a great time with it.”

He was part of a position player group that was packed with postseason experience — Bellinger, Gomes, Dansby Swanson and Trey Mancini were a part of the last four World Series winners (Nationals, Dodgers, Braves, Astros). Mancini was ultimately designated for assignment in August but was widely considered a positive influence in the clubhouse while he was with the team.

That level of experience mixed with a unique sense of camaraderie stood out to some of the players that have been in the Cubs organization for a long time.

“I feel really strong about our relationships as people and just how consistent the group was,” Nico Hoerner said. “It makes playing every day so much easier when you have guys beside you that don’t complain, show up, bring their best every day regardless.

“It just becomes the standard and I think that’s gonna be true here for a really long time. I think we got some young talent that got to see a little bit of that from guys like Ian [Happ] and Dansby and Belli and Yan. I’ve learned a lot, too. That part has been really cool.”

That level of comfort filtered over to the pitching staff, too.

Jameson Taillon was the Cubs’ big free agent pitching addition over the winter after spending his career with the Pirates and Yankees prior to 2023.

The veteran right-hander endured his toughest MLB season but he always felt the support from within the clubhouse.

“I don’t want this to sound like it’s a knock at anyone else but this team, everyone accepts everyone for who they are,” Taillon said. “There’s no judgment on anything. No one expects anyone to be someone they’re not.

“We have a space in here where guys are free to be themselves and live their truth. If you want to work out this way, do it. If you want to run and condition this way, do it. I thought that was really cool here. … We have people from all over and it’s just a very accepting group that’s been a joy to be around.”

Swanson felt that immediately, too.

He signed a 7-year, $177 million in the offseason after playing the previous 7 seasons with the Braves in his home state of Georgia.

Many baseball players have struggled in their first season after inking a megadeal, feeling the pressure to live up to the contract and expectations. Swanson felt that, but he also felt supported from Day 1.

“Something I voiced to everybody was so grateful and appreciative of how accepting everybody was of me and my personality and just treating me like we’ve always been together, which is so warming to come to a new place,” Swanson said. “And obviously being able to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself and really coming together as a group was really fulfilling.”

For Swanson, the adversity hit early when his wife, Mallory, suffered a traumatic knee injury in April that forced her to withdraw from playing on the U.S. Women’s National Team in the World Cup over the summer.

“The challenges that this year presented away from the field with my wife’s knee and all the crazy circumstances that came with that in a new place,” Swanson said. “For somebody that’s used to the same thing over and over again, having newness is always kind of a tough thing for me. Really being able to grow personally through all the adversity was so fulfilling.

“I’m just so grateful for this opportunity. … It was an amazing experience. Obviously the fans were amazing. The staff was great. Everyone was so warming, which is special to be a part of.”

A big part of what made this season so special for the Cubs was the way the team battled back from adversity. On June 8, the Cubs were 10 games under .500 and climbed back into the race, forcing Jed Hoyer’s front office to buy at the deadline — instead of selling off players like Bellinger or Marcus Stroman.

The Cubs ultimately did not make the playoffs, but they took it all the way down to the wire and to a man, they were extremely proud of the way they rose above adversity.

“The perseverance [stood out to me],” Kyle Hendricks said. “We were in so many close games. We had a bad stretch there in the beginning but to be able to bounce back, it was just a resilient group. We always bounced back from whatever negative thing that were to happen.

“To be right at the break and get down to the trade deadline still not knowing what we were gonna do, being able to hold on and the run we were able to put together, keeping this whole group together — just super proud.

“It was a really fun group to be a part of, so I’m glad we could ride out the whole year together. But still, there’s always gonna be that bad taste in the back of your mouth. Just not where we want to be right now.”

The chairman felt the exact same way.

“The thing I’d be most proud of is how the players responded to the adversity that they faced in June when they had a bad West Coast road trip,” Tom Ricketts said, referencing a road trip that included a sweep at the hands of the Angels in L.A. that sunk the team to a 26-36 record. “I think a lot of players and a lot of teams, when they are 10 games under decide that the season was over and just mail it in.

“Instead, the guys came back and pushed really hard, particularly after the All-Star Break and made their case to add as opposed to subtract. I think the way they responded to that adversity is something anyone can be proud of.”

Hoyer echoed that sentiment at his end of season press conference on Tuesday.

Coming into the season, most projection models pegged the Cubs for somewhere around 75-77 wins. So finishing with 83 victories is an accomplishment — even if it comes without the benefit of a playoff appearance.

“The internal expectations were that we were going to make the playoffs and going back to Spring Training, that was the clear goal,” Hoyer said. “When we were 10 games under the middle of June, these guys still believed and it was pretty amazing thing from my seat to listen to them talk about how good they thought the team was when we were 10 games under.

“In the middle of July, when we were after the All-Star break, we were 7 games under and these guys were begging me not to break the team up and begging me not to make trades, which is really impressive. These guys believed through all that, and they went on a heck of a run. We went from 10 under to 12 over over a three month period and it was fun to watch.”

For the man at the helm of the team on the top step of the dugout, this year was important because of a new standard instituted not only within the big-league clubhouse but throughout the organization.

David Ross talked all season about how proud he was of his group overcoming adversity and showing impressive resilience. He also enjoyed watching young players like Christopher Morel, Miguel Amaya and Jordan Wicks become central figures on the roster.

“Probably some of my favorite parts of this year was watching us grow as a team and being able to insert young players who had been on the radar for a little bit and coming in to really help us,” Ross said during the final week of the season.

“I think this winning environment, being on this playoff push here down the stretch is just going to really carry over, hopefully, and create this long-term expectation here. Not just from the guys that are already in that locker room and have contracts but also the young men coming.”

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