For the first few years of the decade, it was easy to find the Chicago Cubs in the National League standings. Look at the bottom. They started the 2010s with a series of fifth-place finishes, and for a couple of those seasons, there were only five teams in their division.
But there was a difference that 2012 season. the Cubs named Jed Hoyer as General Manager and Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations. Epstein had been the Boston Red Sox GM the year they ended a 96-year title drought, beating St. Louis in the 2004 World Series.
The new duo began acquiring pieces immediately via draft, trades and free agency. By 2015, they hired manager Joe Maddon, made the playoffs and started a four-year string where they had the best record in the sport. The efforts by Maddon, Epstein and crew – including sluggers Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, ace pitchers John Lester and Jake Arrieta and series MVP Ben Zobrist -- culminated in 2016.
That year, the Cubs ended the longest drought without a World Series championship in baseball history. The season was practically surreal from start to finish. The Cubs, in their 100th season at Wrigley Field, reached the 100-win mark for the first time since 1935 and won 103 total games, the most wins for the franchise since 1910. They cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs to earn their first World Series berth since 1945.
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Then they made more history. Opponent and American League champion Cleveland had the second-longest title-free drought in the sport. Cleveland was poised to end its streak and extend the Cubs’, taking a 3-1 lead in the World Series. Only five teams in baseball history had made a World Series comeback from being down 3-1.
The Cubs completed their comeback with three straight World Series wins, including a memorable Game 7 in Cleveland. The Cubs built a 6-3 lead, which they gave back in the eighth inning. The teams went into extra innings tied at 6, But before extra innings, there was a 17-minute rain delay, a delay some Cubs players said was key to them winning the game.
The Cubs made the playoffs again in 2017 and 2018, losing in the National League Championship Series in 2017 and losing the wild card game in 2018. Last year’s team was Maddon’s first Cubs squad to miss the playoffs, and Maddon and Esptein announced together their parting of ways.
In sports, organizations often speak of windows of opportunity, understanding that sometimes the right players come together at the right time and can potentially establish an extended run of success. Maddon’s departure is just one of the factors that leave experts questioning whether their window of opportunity has slammed shut.
But even if it has, there’s been a nice playoff run for the team, five years of winning baseball, and that impossibly unlikely and sweet World Series championship that took a lifetime to win.