It's been an offseason of parades, White House visits, accolades upon accolades and a spring training of monster crowds at home and in every stop of the Cactus League.
But recent history shows this message for the rabid fans of the Chicago Cubs, circa 2017: They're doomed.
Yes, it's a lineup full of young stars and a strong starting rotation. But Aroldis Chapman returned to New York via free agency and the weight of history is heavy. No one has repeated as World Series champions since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000. Moreover, the last defending Series champion to even make it back to the Fall Classic was the 2009 Phillies, who lost to the Yankees in six games after winning the '08 title over Tampa Bay in five.
The Cubs get the benefit of the doubt in the opening act of our MLB Power Rankings. In general, you win the Series one year and you start the next year on top until a week comes when you no longer deserve the spot. But as we go through the teams heading out of spring training, keep this in mind: Everyone picking the Cubs to repeat or even get back to the World Series is probably wrong.
As we head into the 2017 season, there might be a sense that the game itself has lost a certain lovable loser feeling that we've known our whole lives. The 86-year curse of the Red Sox ended in 2004 and has resulted in two more World Series titles since. The Cubs waited 108 years for a title and their core looks so strong that there might be a couple more in their future.
Who does that leave? The Indians have the longest championship drought, dating to 1948 and including the Game Seven extra-inning close shaves last year and in 1997 against the Marlins. The Mariners have the longest playoff drought (2001). Not nearly the romanticism of the Cubs and Red Sox.
Here's our annual Preseason Power Rankings:
1. Chicago Cubs. Joe Maddon's crew is full of stars you got richly familiar with last postseason: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez. The starting rotation led by Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester should be boffo again. The bullpen is full of depth. It's hard to imagine anyone else winning the NL Central but the road to the Fall Classic is a difficult one with teams like the Nationals, Dodgers and Giants poised to make runs of their own. The departure of CF Dexter Fowler to free agency, to the Cardinals no less, hurts. They got Wade Davis from the Royals over the winter to close and he's struggled all spring. Injury concerns are real with Davis and the entire lineup. Save for Kyle Schwarber, there were few issues in the magical 2016 campaign.
2. Washington Nationals. One of these years, it will be their year. It better be soon as the window might be closing as Bryce Harper's free agency looms following 2018. In the last three even-numbered years, the Nats have won the NL East but fell in the division series all three
times. In the last two odd-numbered years, they've missed the postseason entirely. It seems like they can break that hex in '17. Harper struggled with shoulder problems and hit just .243 last year so a huge bounceback is in order and there's plenty of other offense with the likes of Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth & Co. With Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark, it's hard to believe they can keep losing a best-of-five series.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers. Another power in the National League. Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Roberts has Clayton Kershaw at the top of his rotation, stud shortstop Corey Seager to anchor the infield, and they re-signed closer Kenley Jansen and infielder Justin Turner. Amazing to think they haven't been in the World Series since 1988. No shock if they get finally get back.
4. Cleveland Indians. The Tribe pulled off the free agent coup of the winter by landing Edwin Encarnacion from Toronto, a huge bat in the middle of lineup to replace the departed Mike Napoli. The clubhouse chemistry will miss Napoli but the hope is young stars like Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez pick up some of the slack. Corey Kluber will once again be in the Cy Young discussion and now you're talking a full year of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in the pen. Terry Francona is simply one of the game's best managers. Look for LeBron James & Co. in the stands cheering again deep into October.
5. Boston Red Sox. The first year ABP (After Big Papi) should still be a big one as the Sox seem a step ahead of the AL East. Even without
David Ortiz, the lineup is sensational, with Mookie Betts on course to be Boston's newest star and Andrew Benintendi getting Fred Lynn '75 Rookie of the Year comparisons. And a rotation that already has Cy Young man Rick Porcello and David Price adds Chris Sale? That's almost not fair. Apologies to Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles fans but you're all playing for second.
6. San Francisco Giants. It's an odd-numbered year and the odds have been rough on the G-men in the past. There were playoff misses in 2013 and '15 while '12 and '14 resulted in World Series wins and '16 saw a division series near-miss against the Cubs. They should be pushing the Dodgers in the NL West again. Any team with a battery that includes Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey will be in the middle of things. Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence provide plenty of pop and Mark Melancon was signed to rule the bullpen. Not hard to find people who think he could have made a huge difference in the postseason last year.
7. Texas Rangers. A strong lineup gets bolstered by the return of Mike Napoli from Cleveland, which was added to the list of clubs he won with. The rotation would get a big boost if Yu Darvish stays healthy. Look for their sixth postseason appearance since 2010 and maybe this time they can stay away from the Blue Jays in October.
8. St. Louis Cardinals. It was weird not to see the Cardinals playing in October. So what did they do? Go out and sign Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler, a nice addition that will be a big subtraction at Wrigley Field. Nice lineup with some good young players and a roster that features old reliables Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright provides real hope it was a one-October silence at Busch Stadium.
9. New York Mets. It's all about keeping this rotation healthy, no small feat the last couple years. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey are the anchors. It's been a tough spring, however. David Wright and Steven Matz are hurting again and the domestic violence incident from the offseason continues to swirl around closer Jerurys Familia. Old friend Terry Collins has to work more magic.
10. Houston Astros. Only four years removed from a 51-111 season, their time is here. Adding a veteran like Carlos Beltran to a young team featuring MVP candidate Carlos Correa was a savvy move. Can Dallas Keuchel regain Cy Young form? Tal's Hill in Minute Maid Park has been leveled. Such a shame. Center field there was one of the throwbacky, quirkiest spots in the majors.
11. Seattle Mariners. MLB's longest playoff drought dates to the 2001 Mariners, who won 116 games and then lost the ALCS to the Yankees in five games. They have a real shot to end their dry spell this year. You have to pay attention to any team featuring Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.
12. Toronto Blue Jays. The window is closing in Toronto, where the Jays might be headed for 90 wins again but might struggle to make the postseason. Losing Edwin Encarnacion is a huge blow, but Kendrys Morales has provided hope this spring he'll hit for plenty of power in Rogers Centre. We'll see if Jose Bautista can have a bounceback season and how far the rotation and closer Roberto Osuna can carry the team. Help from the Bisons might not be a big factor until 2018.
13. New York Yankees. Is this a year for a new Core Four or is it simply Joe Girardi's swan song? Here's a vote for a new era, when you're talking about Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Didi Gregorious. Of course, free agent signings are never bad, with Chapman and Matt Holliday nice additions. Will the Steinbrenner family have the patience for more rebuilding? We'll see.
14. Baltimore Orioles. Memo to Buck Showalter: Use Zach Britton in the key spot this time if you're still playing in October. Plenty of mashers in Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis and Manny Machado. Not enough starting pitching to see if Showalter is awake in the dugout this time.
15. Pittsburgh Pirates. After three straight appearances in the wild-card game, the Bucs missed the postseason entirely last year and will be hard-pressed to get back this year. Too iffy a rotation is one issue. Andrew McCutchen moves to right field with Starling Marte now in center.
16. Kansas City Royals. The end of an era could be at hand. After back-to-back World Series trips in 2014 and '15, the Royals are clear candidates for trade deadline breakup this year if things don't go well. The offseason death of Yordano Ventura and the World Baseball Classic injury suffered by catcher Salvador Perez have really put a pall over spring training. Series stalwarts Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakous and Lorenzo Cain could be gone come July. So might their playoff hopes.
17. Detroit Tigers. You wonder how many more kicks at the can guys like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez can get. The weak AL Central works in their favor but the depth just isn't there.
18. Los Angeles Angels. There has to be a way to get Mike Trout into the postseason so he stops being the greatest player nobody sees most nights. Unfortunately, it might be by trading him somewhere else some day. This is a middling team with a weak farm system. Hard to see it get any better.
19. Philadelphia Phillies. This is the one rebuild out of several in the National League that seems promising. Third baseman Maikel Franco and shortstop Freddy Galvis show huge potential on the left side. Some nice veteran pitching additions in Clay Buchholz and Joaquin Benoit.
20. Tampa Bay Rays. To this view, it's hard to find any scenario where the Rays escape last place in the AL East. The rotation looks good and it's hard to fathom Chris Archer as a 19-game loser again, especially with Kevin Kiermaier web-gemming all over in center field again. But this lineup is dreadful and the bullpen is a huge question mark.
21. Miami Marlins. The emotions of Jose Fernandez's death will never go away. The baseball realities of it become stark with the dawn of a new season. There's no more ace. Too bad because you have to like the lineup, especially how Christian Yelich is becoming a star in his own right paired with Giancarlo Stanton.
22. Chicago White Sox. Here's the team that will challenge the Indians in the AL Central, perhaps as soon as 2018. Jose Abreu is already a force in the big leagues and there's a bunch of studs coming. Infielder Yoan Moncada came from Boston in the Chris Sale trade after signing a $31.5 million deal and will start at Triple-A Charlotte. But for how long?
23. Arizona Diamondbacks. The managerial debut of Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo will thrive or collapse under the pitching. What will he get from the likes of Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin in the rotation and Fernando Rodney out of the pen? Paul Goldschmidt is an MVP-level guy in the middle of an otherwise dicey lineup.
24. Colorado Rockies. Same story, different year under new manager Bud Black. The offense will erupt at Coors Field with the likes of Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez. But will the pitching staff get any outs?
25. Milwaukee Brewers. They come under the heading of you-have-to-say-something-about-everybody. Ryan Braun still plays for them? A contract no one has wanted to take on.
26. Atlanta Braves. Bucking the trend of downtown ballparks that essentially started in Buffalo in 1988, the Braves are headed back to the suburbs this year with the opening of new SunTrust Park. The
park, and stud shortstop Dansby Swanson, will be the stars while former Bisons Brandon Phillips, R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon are on hand to hold the fort until all the prospects are ready
27. Oakland Athletics. By 2020, the Warriors will be off to San Francisco and the Raiders to Las Vegas, leaving the Green and Gold as the only ones left in Oakland. New stadium needed, please. They added Rajai Davis, he of the Game Seven home run in Cleveland, to the top of their lineup and they have a nice rotation as former Bison Kendall Graveman gets the Opening Day start.
28. Cincinnati Reds. They're coming off their first back-to-back 90-loss seasons since 1933-34. It would be no shock if they lost 100 for the first time since 1982 and just the second time in their century-plus history. How long can Joey Votto stay?
29. San Diego Padres. With the Chargers gone to LA, this is the only big-four team left in Fish Taco City. Yeesh. At least the weather is as good as the food. First baseman Wil Myers signed a six-year, $83-million deal in January but needs a lot more help. A seventh straight losing season looms. They might even lose 100 for the first time since 1993. And there will be no football season to look forward to.
30. Minnesota Twins. Maybe the Wild will be pushing for a Stanley Cup and no one will notice how a team that went from 83-79 to 59-103 will likely struggle to avoid losing 100 games again. Or that the first order of business might be to finally trade 42-home run man Brian Dozier.