Now champs, stacked Chicago Cubs aim for World Series repeat

CHICAGO (AP) - Somewhere along the line, at some point on the way to a historic World Series title, Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs figured out how much they enjoyed winning together at the big league level.

They tasted the champagne, and decided they wanted to do it again.

“Getting a lot of questions about how do you not be complacent,” Bryant said, “and that’s why, because it was so much fun that you want to go through it again, and that’s the only answer I’ll ever be able to give, because both individually and as a team, that success is something that you strive for and you want every year you play this game.

“We had a short offseason, but that doesn’t mean anything to us because what we got to experience was something that not many people get a chance to and it’s very addictive, that winning.”
No major league team has won consecutive World Series since the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000, but the Cubs begin the year in an enviable position after winning it all in November for the first time since 1908.'

Bryant, the reigning NL MVP, leads one of the majors’ most potent lineups. The rotation includes 19-game winner Jon Lester, former Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and ERA king Kyle Hendricks, coming off a breakout year. With Javier Baez and some of their top prospects in the minors, they are well-equipped to adjust should they lose a position player to injury.

While manager Joe Maddon talked about staying uncomfortable this spring, it sounded as if his players still had the same hunger they had last year.

“We want to be the best in the game. I think that we are the best in the game as of right now, just looking at the clubhouse,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But that’s just my opinion. We’re going to have to get out there and see who’s standing last, and I think where we’re headed, the type of game plan that we have coming up toward this year, I think that we’re taking the right steps.”

Here are a few more things to watch this season:

ABOUT THAT ROTATION: The Cubs had five pitchers make at least 29 starts last year. But Lester, Arrieta and John Lackey are on the wrong side of 30 and Jason Hammel signed with Kansas City during free agency, making their pitching depth a possible issue.

Brett Anderson takes over Hammel’s spot in the rotation, but he was hampered by injuries last year. Look for Mike Montgomery to get the occasional start to lessen the load on the rest of the rotation, and Rob Zastryzny or Eddie Butler could get a shot if another starting pitcher is needed.

ABOUT THAT LINEUP: Kyle Schwarber gets the first crack at replacing Dexter Fowler on top of Chicago’s lineup. Fowler signed with St. Louis over the winter, and Schwarber is healthy again after missing most of last season with a major left knee injury.

With Schwarber, Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs begin with three imposing power hitters. The 23-year-old Russell had 21 homers and 95 RBIs last season, and Ben Zobrist went deep 18 times in his first year with Chicago.

WORTH WATCHING: Albert Almora Jr., the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, and Jon Jay take over for Fowler in center. If they falter, Maddon could play Jason Heyward in center, Zobrist in right and Baez at second.

CLOSING ARGUMENT: The Cubs strengthened their bullpen by trading for Wade Davis and signing Koji Uehara in the offseason. In Montgomery, Davis and Uehara, they have the pitchers who got the final out of three of the last four World Series - likely not a coincidence given their goals for this year.

Davis was acquired in a deal with Kansas City for outfielder Jorge Soler in December. The right-hander went 19-4 with 47 saves and 1.18 ERA over his final three seasons with the Royals.