Time to bury 2016 talk on the shelf — Cubs are off and grinding

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ST. LOUIS — The Cubs are back in business.

No more victory laps. No more luxuriating in the Arizona desert. No more resting on their World Series laurels.

Sunday’s Opening Night was the first time in 108 years that the Cubs began a season as defending champions. For those of you who’ve permanently erased the number 108 from your brains, let’s just say it was the first time the Cubs debuted as champs since 16,945 games ago (but you knew that already). As special of an occasion as it was, though, it was just another game — just another step along the path to multiple World Series, which has been the goal of this superstar-packed organization all along.

Besides, these Cubs don’t do stuck-in-the-past. They’ve been on to the next for a while now.

“The page has been turned,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We’re going to talk about (last season), just as we talked about 2015 in 2016 and years past, but the page is turned. This is a new journey. I know we’re pretty much all the same guys, but it’s completely new.”

There were discussions within the organization during spring training about the potential pitfalls that threaten title-winning teams in all sports. Expanded fame. Enlarged egos. Desires for more playing time, more money, more everything. Players can get pulled in different directions, to say the least.

It didn’t take team president Theo Epstein long, though, to reach the conclusion that these were moot points.

“This group of guys needs no motivation,” he said. “They need no maintenance or management. They’re such self-starters. They’re totally connected, really selfless, hungry to win. We’re lucky to have this group of guys. They run themselves. And they want it bad.”

Just guessing, but here’s something they probably don’t want: constant questions — throughout the six-month regular season — about their chances of repeating. Yet that, they absolutely are going to get.

Let it be known that Day 1 of the 2017 campaign did not pass without various Cubs being asked: If you don’t win it all again, will the season go down as a failure?

“You know what? This is Game 1 of 162-plus,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got to find our identity again this year, just like we had to do last year and the year before, and come together.”

A non-answer answer? For the time being, a wise ploy.

Meanwhile, no more champagne hangover. No more “can you believe what we did?” No more anything other than digging in for the grind of a long season. It’s the only way to go when the top of the mountain is the goal.

“We’re really focused on trying to get back there again,” left fielder Kyle Schwarber said.

Look, it isn’t supposed to be easy. If those were All-Stars in the Cubs lineup batting against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez, they sure didn’t look like it. If Cubs lefty Jon Lester is going to be the pitcher he was in 2016, he’ll have to be better than he was on Sunday. These were, perhaps, needed reminders — for Cubs fans, that is — that this whole baseball thing is kind of hard.

Who knew?

But the Cubs are game for it. They’re back in business — 2016 is so last year.

“If you walked into our clubhouse during (spring training), I don’t think you could’ve recognized that we were coming off a World Series,” manager Joe Maddon said.

That’s a bit of an overstatement. The luscious aroma of last year’s epic achievement wafted unmistakably over Sloan Park unmistakably as surely as it’ll waft over Wrigley Field and remain for weeks, if not months. And that’s OK. The Cubs have earned it.

But it won’t help them win another game, just the same.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com


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