Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo won’t call on fans to believe in the team’s offense just because the same core won a World Series in 2016. Quite the opposite.
“I think we've got to go out and earn it and prove it,” Rizzo said in a Zoom press conference Monday. “I don't think anyone should believe in it. We haven't done what we were capable of doing the last few years.”
After a disappointing end to last season – swept by the Marlins in a best-of-three Wild Card Series – the Cubs haven’t made major changes to a group of hitters that scored just one run in the 2020 playoffs. Joc Pederson replaces Kyle Schwarber in left field, but other than that, the core remains largely intact. And Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez are entering their final year of club control.
“That whole COVID year, the connection of that team was so, so strong,” Rizzo said. “So, it just hurts ending your season like that in two games. But it's up to us to go out and prove it every day, every year. Just because you do one thing one year doesn't mean you're entitled to anything the next year.”
In the past six seasons, the Cubs have earned five postseason berths, been to three NL Championship Series and won one World Series. But 2017 was the last time the club made it past the Wild Card Game/Series.
After the 2018 season, then-Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said the offense “broke somewhere along the line.” Then, 2019 was a “year of reckoning,” and big changes were expected the following offseason. This winter, the Cubs entered a “transition,” as Epstein stepped down and Jed Hoyer took his place. Though the pitching staff is full of new faces this spring training, the position players are mostly familiar.
“We believe in this group,” Hoyer said last week, “and there's been moments that we've been proven right, and there were moments recently that we haven't (been) proven right. But ultimately, I think this is a really talented offensive group.”
Rizzo, however, isn’t asking for that benefit of the doubt from fans. He said when he was younger, he always looked up to Miguel Cabrera – an 11-time All-Star, seven-time silver slugger, four-time batting champ and two-time MVP.
“Every single year, year in and year out, he would just do it, and do it, and keep doing it,” Rizzo said. “And put up the same numbers, and put up the monster numbers. And it's no different now. When we go out and we play like that team, we’re going to have fun.”
Monday marked the first day of full squad workouts at Cubs spring training. According to Cubs manager David Ross, all but four or five Cubs players had cleared intake protocols as of Monday afternoon. The Cubs placed reliever Kyle Ryan on the COVID-19 related injured list last week.