Joe Maddon knows that repeating won’t be easy, the Chicago Cubs manager admitting that there will be a giant target on his team this year. But he sees a possible playoff contender emerging from his own division, and it isn’t a perennial powerhouse.
A team that has just four playoff appearances in a history that goes back to 1969.
The man who ended 108 years of misery and curses for the Cubs franchise hasn’t been seen much since winning the World Series and exorcizing the hex of the billy goat on this team. Yet he knows that with spring training just a couple of months away that his team will be the target as they look to become the first team to repeat since the New York Yankees in 2000.
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It's a role, Maddon said, that his team is ready to accept this year. It won’t be a problem because the Cubs manager thinks they came into their championship season last spring with a similar target on their backs, this despite their last World Series title having come when Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States.
“It was all about embracing the target this year, man, it couldn’t have been any more difficult. We were picked from the very first day, and we were picked from the very first day with guys that have never done it before. That’s pretty hard,” Maddon said on Friday. He spoke to Metro prior to an event at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University.
“I full well expect to be the target next year. From the first day of spring training I try to get it across to the guys: ‘Don’t you want to be? Wouldn’t you want to be the target? Don’tyou want pressure? Wouldn’t you like the highest expectations there are?’ You have to process it properly.”
“Yes, it’s a target. It’s a big one. It’s gotten bigger. But you should, you should want to be in that situation.”
The target will be enhanced by a competitive (and young) National League that boasts several clubs with legitimate championship admirations.
Maddon lists the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets among the teams he expects that “are definitely going to be back there next year” in the postseason.
But he also has a surprise team, a dark horse that he thinks can and will challenge for the playoffs and might just make it. The Milwaukee Brewers.
“The team I tell you to keep an eye on is Milwaukee. I like Milwaukee a lot. I like their pitching a lot,” Maddon said. “They bothered me a lot last year. I think Milwaukee is better than people realize.”
The Brewers finished last season 73-89, fourth place in the National League’s Central Division.