With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Cubs squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.
MESA, Ariz. -- For many Cubs fans, the 2016 season was perfect. How many times have you replayed Game 7 and still yelled when Kris Bryant throws to Anthony Rizzo for the final out? That play preserved the Cubs' 8-7, 10-inning win over the Indians, and for the first time since 1908, the Cubs won the World Series, thrilling generations of fans.
So, what would be a perfect season in 2017? How about a repeat?
Expect manager Joe Maddon to stress a lot of the same things this season. The Cubs need a good start, like last year's 17-5 April. And Maddon already has hinted that rest will be emphasized. Playing a seven-month season is tough, and the Cubs will be careful with their pitchers, who carried the workload.
Four of the five starters from 2016 return, with only Jason Hammel gone. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and John Lackey combined to lead the Majors in ERA but they're all one year older, and the extra innings can take a toll. This spring, Cubs fans should not expect to see Lester, 33, or Lackey, 38, throwing too early in camp.
Lester has totaled 200 innings in all but one of his last nine seasons, and he reached 191 2/3 innings the one other year (2011). Arrieta jumped from 156 2/3 innings in 2014 to 229 in 2015, and totaled 197 1/3 innings in the regular season last year.
Last season, Hendricks was fighting for a spot in the rotation, and ended up leading the Majors in ERA by year's end. He also was the Cubs No. 2 starter in the postseason.
Do the Cubs have enough depth? The possible No. 5 rotation options include recently acquired Brett Anderson, who missed nearly all of last season following back surgery in March, and lefty Mike Montgomery, who can be a swingman. Montgomery has secured a spot in Cubs history forever because he got the final out and save in the Game 7 win.
The goal for the Cubs this winter was to add more arms. Others projected as insurance include a pair right-handers Eddie Butler and Alec Mills, acquired from the Rockies and Royals, respectively, plus Rob Zastryzny, Jake Buchanan, Aaron Brooks and Seth Frankoff. Zastryzny made quite an impression in his eight games with the big league team. He went 7-3 with a 4.33 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) at Iowa last season.
In a perfect season, the Cubs will play solid defense. How fun will it be to watch Addison Russell and Javier Baez in the middle of the infield? Who knows what acrobatics Rizzo will do at first?
And even though the Cubs didn't add a position player this offseason, they actually did with the return of Kyle Schwarber. His 2016 season lasted three games, and if he can hit .412 in five World Series games, imagine what he can do in a full year? Getting Schwarber back will definitely provide some punch to a lineup that posted a plus-252 run differential last year.
The Cubs enjoyed all the perks that came with winning it all last year.
"Success is very addicting," Rizzo said. "You want to keep going."
If the Cubs do that, it would be perfect again.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.