MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Maddon surprised by Cubs' dominance in '16

At 89-50, North Siders have the big league's best record

Maddon surprised by Cubs' dominance in '16

MILWAUKEE -- When Joe Maddon came on board as manager of the Cubs, he was taking over a team that had finished in fifth place for five straight seasons.

Nevertheless, Maddon expected the 2015 Cubs to reach the postseason. And they did.

Maddon, whose optimism is of the relentless sort, next expected this season's Cubs to be better than the 2015 version. But even he did not see the club being as dominant as they have been this season.

Beyond that, Maddon sees a bunch of talented young players, who can continue to get better, making the team's current success "sustainable for years to come." With these Cubs on the doorstep of being historically good, this is not a concept the opposition would even wish to ponder.

"I expected us to get into the playoffs last year, I really did," Maddon said Wednesday in an interview with MLB.com. "I didn't know how or when or how many or any of that good stuff. I obviously did a little homework on the organization and the players, and with the Rays in 2014, we played the Cubs near the end of that season, and I was kind of impressed with a lot of what I had seen.

"Yes, I did expect it, I honestly did. I don't mean to sound pretentious, but I really did expect it to happen. This year? It's even a little bit beyond what I anticipated. Come on, I mean let's be honest.

"But I do have a lot of faith in our organization, ownership and the front office. And once you get to know our guys, you've got to trust your guys, and it's pretty easy to trust our players."

What the Cubs needed in a manager was somebody who was genuinely positive enough to jettison the historical baggage, the built-in defeatism that this franchise had carried for decades. But this optimist could not be a pushover. With all their youthful talent, the Cubs essentially needed Maddon to put the pieces together.

"I do tend to wear the rose-colored glasses, and I think that's OK," Maddon said with a smile. "I think in today's world we could use more of that, actually. And then with the talent level of our group, while we are optimistic, we're also pragmatic. We call them on different items if it's not working out. We hold them accountable in every situation, and our guys are highly accountable.

"So I think you can be positive -- not to gloss over things -- but you can remain positive, be accountable, and if you have talent, that's a nice formula to get a group to come together."

The Cubs were delayed in their progress toward greatness the last two nights, dropping two games in Milwaukee. The rubber match of a three-game series Wednesday night went to the Brewers, 2-1. But with a 15 1/2-game lead in the NL Central and a magic number of nine, the 2016 Cubs are a matter of when, not if.

First things first: the division title, and then the postseason. The Cubs' 89-50 record, the best in baseball, has generated the highest possible hopes among their legions of loyal, long-suffering fans.

But look at this roster and the ages of many of the core players. The 2016 Cubs experience may not be a culmination, but instead an early chapter in a story about a substantial stretch of success.

"This is something that I think is sustainable for many years to come, based on what we saw last year, what we're seeing this year," Maddon said. "And the majority of these guys are really young. It's not like you've got a bunch of long-in-the-tooth whitebeards. It's not. The guys are real, and they're good, and a lot of them are going to continue to get better."

The first thing to do, of course, would be to stay really, really good, all the way from now through the first week in November. There isn't much reason to doubt Maddon on the topics of the Cubs' recent past, present and future. So far, as Cubs manager, he has a nice, clear record of being right.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.