CHICAGO -- The 2016 season is one Cubs fans won't forget for a long time.
For the first time since 1908, the Cubs are World Series champions. Say that a few times out loud. They had to rally to beat the Indians, 8-7, in 10 innings in a dramatic Game 7, igniting a party that may still be going. After winning 103 games during the regular season, the Cubs are the third team in Wild Card era (1995-present) to have baseball's best regular-season record and win the World Series, joining the 1998 and 2009 Yankees.
The Cubs were the preseason favorites to win it all, and manager Joe Maddon embraced the hype. He refused to dwell on the franchise's past 108 years of frustration or talk about curses. Instead, he preferred to focus on the present, and the players followed his lead.
"The burden has been lifted," Maddon said after the Game 7 win at Progressive Field. "It should have never been there in the first place, I don't think, but now we can move forward."
The Cubs took advantage of the Friendly Confines, winning a franchise-record 57 games at Wrigley Field. To get to the World Series, the Cubs had to beat the Giants, who had the even-year calendar in their favor, having won the championship in 2010, '12 and '14, and then the Dodgers and their ace, Clayton Kershaw.
While fans continue to pinch themselves over the team's success, let's take take one more look back at 2016.
Record: 103-58, first place, National League Central.
Defining moment: It's tough to pick one game, but the July 31 Interleague contest against the Mariners at Wrigley Field stands out as a perfect example of the Cubs' "We never quit" attitude. The Mariners opened a 6-0 lead after three innings but the Cubs rallied, scoring three runs in the ninth to tie the game at 6, including Addison Russell scoring on a wild pitch. Maddon had to be creative regarding his bullpen, and reliever Travis Wood was inserted into left field in the seventh. He made a catch at the wall for the second out. The Cubs won in the 12th when Jon Lester, pinch-hitting for Hector Rondon, perfectly executed a sacrifice bunt and Jason Heyward scored from third.
A few days earlier, on July 25, the Cubs acquired what they hoped would be the key piece in the puzzle by trading for closer Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees. Chapman, who appeared in 28 games with the Cubs, was key down the stretch. The left-hander appeared in 13 postseason games and got the win in Game 7. Said Maddon: "He's a different kind of pitcher. You see that every 100 years or so."
What went right: Nearly everything. Cubs pitchers lead the Major Leagues with a 3.15 ERA, and the starters posted a 2.96 ERA, led by Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA) and Lester (2.44). They stayed relatively healthy, and Maddon was able to insert a sixth starter to give everyone a breather in the second half.
Dexter Fowler's return gave the lineup the leadoff man it needed and kept Heyward in right field where he was comfortable. Ben Zobrist set the tone Maddon wanted at the plate, and the young Cubs followed. Maddon eventually created what he called a "Rizzo sandwich," with Kris Bryant batting ahead of Anthony Rizzo and followed by Zobrist. The combo worked perfectly, with Bryant leading the National League in runs scored.
The Cubs decided to promote top catching prospect Willson Contreras in June so he could be mentored by Miguel Montero and David Ross, and that worked perfectly, too. Ross could not have asked for a better sendoff. He finished with 106 career home runs, not including his homer in Game 7 of the World Series, and he was celebrated in the Cubs' last home game on Sept. 25 against the Cardinals, getting pulled in the top of the seventh to a thunderous ovation.
Javier Baez was a player without a position, and he accepted a part-time role. His defense shined, and he eventually won the second-base job, bumping Zobrist to left field.
What went wrong: In the third game of the regular season, Kyle Schwarber collided with Fowler at Chase Field, and he tore both the ACL and LCL in his left knee. Schwarber was done for the season and not expected to see any action until 2017. He was able to contribute in the World Series as the designated hitter, turning his negative into a positive.
Rondon began the season as the closer but lost his job once Chapman arrived. Rondon battled tightness in his right arm, which may have led to his inconsistent outings. He posted a 1.72 ERA in 32 games in the first half but had a 6.41 ERA in 22 games after the All-Star break. Heyward played Gold Glove-caliber defense in right, but offensively he scuffled, batting .230 and unable to total double digits in home runs.
Biggest surprise: In Spring Training, Hendricks was battling for a spot in the Cubs' rotation. By season's end, he was the Major League leader in ERA, doubling his win total from the previous year and starting key games in the playoffs. Hendricks, named NL Pitcher of the Month in August, did all of this quietly and in an unassuming way, reminding many Cubs fans of another right-hander, Greg Maddux.
Hitter of the Year: Bryant followed his 2015 Rookie of the Year season with a stellar sophomore campaign. He finished third in the NL in home runs (39), first in runs scored (121), sixth in RBIs (102) and 19th in batting average (.292). Named the starting third baseman on the All-Star team, he was also the NL Player of the Month in August after batting .383 with 10 homers and 22 RBIs.
Bryant went 5-for-5 with three home runs, two doubles, six RBIs and 16 total bases on June 27 in Cincinnati. He's also the fourth Cub in franchise history to total at least 120 runs, 35 doubles, 39 homers and 100 RBIs in a single season and the second to do so in the past 85 years. Rizzo is a close second for top hitter honors, finishing with 32 homers, 109 RBIs and a .292 average. He batted .341 with runners in scoring position.
Pitcher of the Year: Lester matched his career high in wins (19) and won NL Pitcher of the Month honors in both June (4-0, 1.41 ERA) and September (5-0, 0.48 ERA). The lefty compiled a 2.44 ERA in 32 starts, totaled 200-plus innings for the fifth straight season and posted a career-best 1.02 WHIP. He followed that with an impressive postseason, going 3-1 with a 2.02 ERA in six games, including three innings of relief in Game 7.
Rookie of the Year: Maddon admits he didn't know much about Contreras in Spring Training, but the front office wanted to make sure the young catcher had a chance to work with the veteran pitchers. It paid off. Promoted in mid-June, he homered on the first pitch he saw in his first at-bat, pinch-hitting in the sixth on June 19 against the Pirates. Contreras was a good student, and he got most of the playoff starts because of his defensive skills. He's the catcher of the future.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.