‘I think we needed that’: Cubs players use bad finish to 2018 as motivation in spring training

Baseball: World Series: Aerial view of Chicago Cubs players victorious on field after winning Game 7 in 10th inning to win championship series vs Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Cleveland, OH 11/2/2016 CREDIT: David E. Klutho (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: SI598 TK7 )

MESA, Ariz. – Theo Epstein said in his closing news conference for the 2018 season that he wanted the lessons of the campaign to sink it for the players as they headed to the offseason.

“If you just show up, playing it cool, knowing you’re talented, knowing it’s a long season and trusting that the talent will manifest over the course of 162, sometimes you end up one game short,” Epstein said on October 3, a day after they lost to the Rockies in a Wild Card playoff. “That’s not who we are or who we want to be.”

To forget about the past or remember it? Often that’s a question people have as they switch from one chapter of life to another. Certainly, the Cubs have pondered it as they descend on Arizona to start spring training for the 2019 season.

Over the last four months the Cubs went their separate ways, trying to understand how things went wrong at the end of the season, especially on offense. They scored just a single run in losing the NL Central tiebreaker to the Brewers and the Wild Card game to Colorado, both at Wrigley Field. Those totals were discussed throughout an offseason that arrived earliest in the Joe Maddon era.

As the team trickled into Sloan Park this week, it appears they’ve held onto those memories of last season, choosing to use them in hopes of preventing another late season slide in 2019.

“It’s going to be hard to forget,” admitted outfield Kyle Schwarber. “I think it’s going to set the tone of the way we want to approach our spring training and the way that we’re going to want to work.”

A number of Cubs will have redemption on their minds after a bad finish, including catcher Willson Contreras. His third major league season faded in the final two months, when he hit .213 in August then .159 in September, finishing with just two homers and 17 RBI in that stretch.

Contreras hit a career-low .249, then went 0-for-3 in the Wild Card game. It was a wake-up call that was unwelcome, but one the catcher is happy to answer this spring.

“I think we needed that,” said Contreras. “We played good last year, but the last month-and-a-half we didn’t do our best. We tried to do our best, but it didn’t work out. So I think we needed that kick in the butt to start reflection and start going again in 2019.”

That officially starts Tuesday as pitchers and catchers are required to report. Both Contreras and Schwarber were there early to get work started, with memories of an early end to their season at top of mind.

“It’s a whole new year and we’ve got goals that we want to accomplish,” said Schwarber. “We’re going to set our best foot forward.”

Taking with them lessons of the recent past as they take their first steps towards the season ahead.

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