Cubs can turn attention to a repeat

CHICAGO — No more Lovable Losers. Forget those curses, too.

The Chicago Cubs ended decades of heartache and futility by beating the Cleveland Indians for their first championship since 1908 . And that means for the first time in 108 years, the Cubs can — get this — turn their attention toward a repeat.

They finally wiped out baseball’s longest title drought early Thursday in Cleveland when third baseman Kris Bryant fielded Michael Marti­nez’s grounder off Mike Montgomery and threw to Anthony Rizzo at first, closing out an epic Game 7 of the World Series against the Indians.

That set off a celebration in Chicago more than a century in the making, and it was still going on Thursday afternoon. Fans jammed the sidewalks outside Wrigley Field taking photos under the famed marquee, which read “WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS.”

Across the street at the corner of Clark and Addison, the line to get into a sportswear store selling Cubs merchandise stretched around the corner.

There will be a championship parade starting at Wrigley Field followed by a rally at Grant Park on Friday.

“We’re in the books,” Rizzo said. “We’re in history forever. This team is brothers forever no matter what.”

World Series favorites from the start, the Cubs spent almost the entire season in first place on the way to a 103-58 record — their highest win total since the 1910 team won 104 games.

They beat playoff-tested San Francisco in the Division Series. They shook off back-to-back shutout losses and a 2-1 deficit against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series to capture their first pennant in 71 years.

They topped it all off when they became the first team since the 1985 Kansas City Royals to overcome a 3-1 World Series deficit to win the title. And now, that championship W flies.

As the Cubs — the Cubs, of all teams — turn their attention toward a repeat, here are some things to know.

ON THE MARKET: The Cubs will have to pay up if they want to keep their closer. That’s because Aroldis Chapman is a free agent and figures to become baseball’s richest reliever.

The flame-throwing lefty converted 16 of 18 save opportunities for Chicago during the regular season after being acquired from the New York Yankees and was a huge reason why the Cubs won the World Series.

If Chapman signs with another team, the Cubs could go back to Hector Rondon as their closer.

MORE DECISIONS: Center fielder and leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler plans to become a free agent.

Fowler told ESPN on Thursday night that he will exercise a $5 million buyout clause rather than a $9 million mutual option and test the market. He said he is not ruling out another return to Chicago.

He boosted his stock this season by hitting .276 with a .393 on-base percentage after re-signing with Chicago in a surprise move during spring training. Before that, it appeared Fowler was headed to Baltimore.

Right-hander Jason Hammel, who won 15 games, also has a club option.

YOUTH SERVED: Don’t expect the Cubs to fade anytime soon. Not with such a young core of stars.

MVP contenders Bryant and Rizzo are 24 and 27, respectively. Shortstop Addison Russell is 22. Second baseman Javier Baez is 23 and catcher Willson Contreras is 24. All had big moments in the postseason, and all are under team control through at least 2021.

For that matter, major league ERA champion Kyle Hendricks turns 27 in December.

SCHWARBER EFFECT: The Cubs barely flinched after Kyle Schwarber sustained what they thought was a season-ending knee injury in his second game of the season.  Even so, there was no denying the impact the 23-year-old slugger had in the World Series.

Cleared to hit — but not play the field — Schwarber went 7 for 17. But the Cubs might have a logjam next season if the team returns mostly intact.

That’s because Schwarber, Jorge Soler and versatile Ben Zobrist could all be looking for time in left field. Then again, manager Joe Maddon has shown he knows how to juggle the lineup and keep everyone involved.

MORE HITS: Shut out four times, it was a boom-or-bust postseason for the Cubs’ big bats. Maddon attributed that to the team’s youth. And he expects that to be the biggest area of improvement.

“If you look at our kids, I think if you put your scout’s cap on, it’s going to be easy to understand that the area we’re going to get better at is offense,” he said. “Understanding themselves better, understanding what the pitcher’s going to try to do against them. Understanding how to make adjustments in the game. Understanding how to utilize the entire field more consistently as they gain experience.”

COMMENTS