Make no mistake about it: the Cubs are trying to turn the page on the Joe Maddon era. You could hear it when Theo Epstein chose to “take the high road” when asked about Maddon’s recent comments regarding last summer’s breakup. You could sense it when new manager David Ross talked about increasing intensity and consistent lineups, all without referencing this season’s must-have Pinot Noir. The Cubs know that the Maddon Years, objectively the most successful stretch of baseball in team history, are done. What remains to be seen is if the outspoken manager took those winning ways with him. 

“I feel a lot better about the organization,” Epstein said. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress in some important areas this offseason. I know it might bring some eye-rolls because there wasn’t significant change to the roster that could have happened … I’m genuinely optimistic about this group. 

“I feel like the talent is maybe getting overlooked a little bit. And that’s our own fault, because it hasn’t manifested the way it should have. We haven’t gotten the most out of it. We haven’t turned it into production, which is the most important part. But that’s what this is about. That’s what changes are about. That’s what Rossy’s here to do.” 

Though he’s proceeded by a reputation not unlike Maddon’s, the sparknotes version of himself that Ross presented to media at Sloan Park on Tuesday afternoon has plenty of noticeable differences. There’s going to be more structure within the clubhouse and an increased focus on day-to-day intensity. It’s entirely possible that Anthony Rizzo is non-ironically the Cubs’ leadoff hitter, and batting orders will no longer be the guessing game of the day. 

 

“Traditionally, I like a standard lineup as much as I possibly can,” Ross said. “I think the flow of a normal, consistent lineup is important to some of the players. It's a real thing, as much as we don't measure it."

Pitching Chicago on a fresh start is an admittedly tough sell when a vast majority of the Cubs’ 40-man roster is the same. If there was one thing Epstein got right on Tuesday, it’s that many, many people are rolling their eyes. Last year’s fourth-oldest team in baseball is back, one year older. Jason Kipnis, Steven Souza and Jeremy Jeffress were the only players brought in this offseason, and since the Cubs feel that discussing payroll is, as Epstein put it, a “strategic disadvantage,” it’s up to fan interpretation on why that is. 

The grand irony of Epstein and company's PR blitz is that on paper, and presumably on the field, the Cubs are good! Teams don't win the World Series every year; the 2018 Red Sox won 120 games and followed that up by missing the playoffs entirely and trading Mookie Betts. This was never a roster that needed the dramatic overhaul that Cubs’ brass so badly wants everyone to believe took place (the yoga instructor is gone! The Pitch Lab is cookin’!). PECOTA even gave them 85 wins with a playoff berth. 2016’s window is going to close, for good, sooner rather than later. The painful rebuild is coming whether Anthony Rizzo stans or the Wilson Contreras hive like it or not.

Maybe the Cubs did turn the page. But at the end of the day, it’s just another piece of paper from the same book. 

“I think the main thing is that there’s been a lot of success here,” Ross said. “These guys have had a lot of experiences to pull from. Just coming back and paying attention to some of the details, grinding at-bats, focusing on cleaning up our baserunning a little bit – some of the small details where things have gone awry in the last year or two. Nothing earth shattering.” 

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