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Winning Back-To-Back World Series Is Really Hard, Says Theo Epstein

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The Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations opines on the team’s chances of repeating.

Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago posted an article in which he spoke to Theo Epstein about the Cubs’ quest to repeat as World Series champions. In it, Theo said:

“The primary reason why it’s hard to repeat is just because it’s really difficult to win the World Series,” Epstein said. “In any given year, if you’re any old team, you have a 3-percent chance. If you’re the best team, you might have, you know, a 10- or 12-percent chance. So it’s just hard to do. But there are things that get in the way.”

He’s right, of course. Any little thing could get in the way — for example, the Cubs were (apart from Kyle Schwarber, and missing Dexter Fowler for a few weeks) remarkably injury-free in 2016. That helped, a lot. Theo continued:

“When you win, you get pulled in a lot of different directions,” Epstein said. “There can be a tendency — at some point, no matter how high the character — to start thinking about yourself a little bit more.

“You have to work really hard — we all do — to avoid any kind of organizational arrogance. (Or) any sense of entitlement to really understand that of all the great things that happened last year, the most special aspect is that we all got to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

“So it’s important to like opt back into that mindset, to buy back into being a team player, to being a team-centric organization.”

I couldn’t agree more. Everyone involved in the organization has to start the 2017 campaign as if it’s Day One, to not rest on the laurels of winning in 2016. Theo and Joe Maddon, I think, will be able to do that.

I posted this in the comments a couple of days ago, but here is what happened to all the World Series champions since the last team to repeat (the 1999-2000 Yankees). Year listed is the year after the team won the championship:

2016 Royals: 81-81, missed playoffs
2015 Giants: 84-78, missed playoffs
2014 Red Sox: 71-91, missed playoffs
2013 Giants: 76-86, missed playoffs
2012 Cardinals: 88-74, lost NLCS
2011 Giants: 86-76, missed playoffs
2010 Yankees: 95-67, lost ALCS
2009 Phillies: 93-69, lost World Series
2008 Red Sox: 95-67, lost ALCS
2007 Cardinals: 78-84, missed playoffs
2006 White Sox: 90-72, missed playoffs
2005 Red Sox: 95-67, lost division series
2004 Marlins: 83-79, missed playoffs
2003 Angels: 77-85, missed playoffs
2002 Diamondbacks: 98-64, lost division series
2001 Yankees: 95-65, lost World Series

Yikes. That’s not a very good record over the last 16 years. Just two of the teams who won World Series in that span even got back there the next year (and none since the Phillies in 2009), and 10 of the teams missed the postseason entirely, four of those with losing records. Just seven of the 16 teams won 90 or more games.

In several cases injuries were the reason, particularly for the recent Giants winners and last year’s Royals. So — and of course this is blindingly obvious — staying healthy is important. The Cubs having a number of versatile players who can fill in at various positions will mitigate against having injuries affect them too much. So will Theo’s recent focus on trying to find depth, especially for the rotation, to keep at Triple-A Iowa.

The other thing that’s different from many of the teams listed above is the Cubs’ youth. The Cubs have six key players — Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras — who will play the 2017 season at age 27 or younger. That’s something many of the teams above (the Diamondbacks and Yankees, in particular) didn’t have.

The 2017 Cubs ought to be a postseason team. And they have a very good chance of getting back to the World Series and winning it, presuming they stay healthy and players produce as they did last year.

But it won’t be easy. And Theo Epstein’s statements above show he knows how hard it is to repeat, and hopefully he and Joe Maddon will send that message forth loud and clear so that the players understand they have to be just as hungry to win as they were in 2016.