Young curse-free Cubs could have more titles ahead


Cleveland (AFP)

A core of 20-something stars have sparked the Chicago Cubs rise from seemingly cursed to World Series champions, and manager Joe Maddon warns they might just be getting started.

The Cubs won their first title since 1908 and ended the longest sports title drought in American history by edging the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in the early hours of Thursday morning to capture Major League Baseball's best-of-seven final four games to three.

"Those 108 years don't mean anything anymore," said Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, the game two and game six winner. "It's the start of a brand new chapter for the Chicago Cubs."

The Cubs had not reached the World Series since 1945, supposedly victims of the "Curse of the Billy Goat," imposed by a tavern owner who was ejected along with his goat from a Series game at Wrigley Field and vowed the Cubs would never win again.

They didn't return to the World Series until this year, and it took an emotional 10-inning victory to end the championship drought, but now they might be a G.O.A.T. -- Greatest of all time -- instead of cursed by one.

"We killed it," Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. "It's done. It's over. You can't really believe in all of that."

That's the message Cubs manager Joe Maddon has stressed from the start as he guided a young squad to the throne, perhaps the first of several for rising young talents.

"Moving forward, as they've gained this experience from this season and the World Series experience, they are going to keep getting better," Maddon said. "These kids are going to get better. They're scratching the surface of how good they can be."

- Young Cubs should age well -

The Cubs, the first road team to capture a winner-take-all World Series game seven, had a record six World Series starters who were under age 25 in game two. Not since 1970 had there even been five such players start a World Series contest.

"I keep trying to make the point that these guys getting this experience right now absolutely bodes well for the future," Maddon said. "When you demonstrate the confidence in these kids and they succeed, obviously they come back the next year and they're a little bit better just for the experience."

Shortstop Addison Russell, 22, smashed a grand slam home run in game six, becoming the second-youngest player to blast a bases-loaded homer in the World Series after New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle in 1953.

Third baseman Kris Bryant, 24, had 20 hits, the most by a Cubs player in a playoff run.

Kyle Schwarber, 23, suffered a knee injury after only two games this season but was able to recover in time to return in the World Series and play designated hitter in games at Cleveland, his key single to open the 10th inning igniting a two-run outburst that won for the Cubs.

Second baseman Javier Baez, 23, belted a fifth-inning homer in game seven. And with catcher Willson Contreras, 24, and outfielder Jorge Soler, 24, contributing in key moments as well, the future looks bright for a team playing in 102-year-old Wrigley Field.

"They might get a little bit out of control on occasion at the plate, but in the field they have been outstanding," Maddon said. "I don't really think about these guys are that young. Up and down I don't focus on that. Game in progress, you're so able to speak with them, and if you need to make any adjustments they can hear you."

Maddon blamed the early series hitting woes of the Cubs on their youth and the adjusting to the moment and unfamiliar pitching of the World Series.

"As we continue to move forward together, the one area of our club that I anticipate is going to get better is offense," he said.

"Just check these guys out in a couple years. The biggest difference, I think, is that they're going to become better hitters."