When the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series - ending a 108-year title drought - many felt the talented young squad was on the verge of a dynasty.
However, though it's still early in the 2017 season, the results thus far haven't been what manager Joe Maddon and the Cubs' fanbase expected, as the team has struggled its way to a 27-27 record through 54 games.
The only major differences between this year and last year is that outfielder Dexter Fowler (now with the St. Louis Cardinals) and catcher David Ross (retired) are no longer with the team.
Though Maddon refused to use the absence of Fowler and Ross as an excuse for this year's struggles, it's clear the Cubs miss having the two veterans around the clubhouse:
"They were such a big part of what we've done the last couple of years," Maddon said to ESPN.com. "It's hard to quantify what they did do, but you can have a pretty strong idea. The reality is they are not here. Other guys have to ascend. That's either leadership within the group or younger guys growing up. That's how this game works."
The Cubs roster has plenty of talent and the team will likely heat up soon, but losing two of the best teammates in the entire league definitely hurt coming into the 2017 campaign.
Maddon said that he expects new leaders to emerge, and that as long as the Cubs pick things up by the end of the season, he'll be happy:
"I think we have the leadership capability," Maddon said. "I think young guys are going to grow up. If we had to struggle, I prefer it now as opposed to the end of the year."
Following a six-game road losing streak, the Cubs returned home to Wrigley Field and promptly defeated Fowler and the Cardinals in the first two games of the three-game series.
Fowler has struggled to start the 2017 season with his new squad, hitting just .227 with eight home runs and 20 RBI. However, Kyle Schwarber, who has served as the Cubs' primary leadoff hitter this season, has been even worse, putting up only a .166/9/23 line thus far.
Again, it's early in the year and the Cubs have a ton of talent, so there's still time to turn things around and make a run at another World Series title.
But, if new leaders don't emerge in the clubhouse, the Cubs could be forced to make a trade for an established veteran before the July 31 trade deadline.
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