In 2016, the Chicago Cubs finally shed the ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’, winning the World Series for the first time since the 1908 season.
The team also had a number of individual players take home various pieces of hardware, ranging from the National League Most Valuable Player to multiple Gold Glove Award winners.
In the regular season, the North Siders were on top of the NL Central Division race for all but one day in early April.
They opened up a double-digit lead by early June, and by early August would never see a division rival get closer than a dozen games.
They would win 103 games, more than any Cubs team since the 1910 season. The club would also win the organization’s first NL Central crown since 2008 by a huge 17.5 game margin.
Entering the postseason as the clear World Series favorites, the Cubs were challenged at each step, and would meet each challenge.
In the NLDS, the San Francisco Giants were trying to extend their “Even Years” streak. The Cubs fought the tough Giants off in four games.
Then in the NLCS, the Cubs rallied from being down 2-1 in games to take out the Los Angeles Dodgers in a hard-fought six game series.
The Fall Classic again found Chicago behind, this time by 3-1 in games to the Cleveland Indians. Again the Cubs rallied, taking three straight, including a classic Game Seven in extra innings.
2016 CUBS OFFENSIVE LEADERS
First baseman Anthony Rizzo was a legitimate MVP candidate in his own right. The 26-year old hit for a .292/.385/.544 slash with 32 homers, 43 doubles, 109 RBI, and 94 runs.
Rizzo was an NL All-Star for a third straight season, and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. He was further honored with his first career Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. On any other club, he would be the team Player of the Year.
22-year old shortstop Addison Russellwas an NL All-Star for the first time. He banged 21 homers and produced 95 RBI. Center fielder Dexter Fowler had a .393 on-base percentage, stole a team-high 13 bases, and scored 84 runs.
Veteran second baseman Ben Zobrist was an NL All-Star for the first time, the third All-Star nod in his career. He had a .386 on-base percentage with 18 homers, 31 doubles, 76 RBI, and 94 runs scored.
Perhaps most importantly, Zobrist, who also won the World Series a year ago with the Kansas City Royals, was the Most Valuable Player of this year’s Fall Classic.
2016 CUBS PITCHING LEADERS
On the mound, the Cubs rotation of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel was arguably the best in the game.
Lester shared the NLCS MVP honors, and was an NL All-Star and the Cy Young Award runner-up. Arrieta was also an NL All-Star, and won a Silver Slugger Award. Hendricks finished third in the Cy Young voting.
In the bullpen, Hector Rondon had 18 Saves until giving way to trade deadline acquisition Aroldis Chapman, who registered 16 Saves down the stretch.
Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, Trevor Cahill, Justin Grimm, Travis Wood, Carl Edwards Jr, and another deadline arrival, Joe Smith, gave Chicago manager Joe Maddon the best bullpen in the game from which to choose his options.
BRYANT TAKES TOP PLAYER HONORS
With all of their weapons, choosing the Cubs top player in 2016 was still an easy call. 24-year old Kris Bryant was the National League Most Valuable Player and the Hank Aaron Award winner as the league’s top hitter.
Bryant ripped 39 home runs and 35 doubles, knocking in 102 and scoring 121 runs. He hit for a .292/.385/554 slash line with a .939 OPS and 149 OPS+ mark.
The career trajectory for Bryant has been nothing short of incredible. He was the 2013 Golden Spikes Award as the best player in college baseball. In 2014, he became the #1 overall prospect in the game.
A year ago, Bryant was the NL Rookie of the Year and a National League All-Star, finishing 11th in the MVP voting. This year, he continued the progression, winning the MVP and leading the Cubs to a world championship.
“It’s all downhill from here,” Bryant joked after being named the NL MVP, per Colleen Kane with the Chicago Tribune. “This year has certainly been one of the best years of my life, winning the World Series, and now this is just icing on the cake. I look forward to really enjoying this offseason because I don’t know if this year will ever happen to me (again).”
I think we can all feel certain that this, just his second big league season, is only the beginning of one of the great baseball careers of this new generations of players. For the 2016 season, Kris Bryant is the world champion Chicago Cubs Player of the Year.