CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 04:  The Wrigley Field marquee displays "World Series Champions" during the 2016 World Series victory parade for the Chicago Cubs on November 4, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years after defeating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game 7. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #1: The Chicago Cubs Break the Curse and Win it All

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

That headline notwithstanding, we don’t believe in curses around here. We don’t think black cats released near the on-deck circle or billy goats denied entrance into a ballpark have an effect on baseball games or the men, born decades after the fact, who play them. It’s a lot of fun to talk about such things but if you’re the sort who takes such things seriously, by all means, seek help.

That being said, 108 years between World Series titles is quite a thing. A thing that, over time, would’ve generated enough agita on its own. It was only fitting then, that breaking that title drought — or, if you must, breaking that curse — didn’t come easy.

The Cleveland Indians built a 3-1 World Series lead and not many teams have blown 3-1 leads. But it never felt like they had a handle on it the way other teams with a 3-1 series lead usually have. The Indians only had three starters due to injuries and they had to ride them hard. The 3-1 lead was based mostly on cold Cubs bats and those bats weren’t likely to stay cold forever. Anything can happen in a short series, but the Cubs made it go longer, gutting out at bats and picking up wins in Games 5 and 6. The longer two teams play the more likely it is that the better team will win, and the Cubs were the better team.

Game 7 meant facing Corey Kluber, who had been dominant in the playoffs to date. Unfortunately for the Indians, however, Kluber was gassed, allowing four runs in four innings. But even then it wasn’t easy. The Indians rallied for two runs in the bottom of the fifth and three in the bottom of the eighth, thanks to a gassed Aroldis Chapman, to force extra innings.

You know what happened then, of course. Rain. Kyle Schwarber leading off with a single to right field. Ben Zobrist slapping a double down the left field line, plating the guy who pinch-ran for Schwarber. Miguel Montero ripping a single to left field to make it 8-6. That score would hold and the Cubs would be World Series champions.

They may win more. Their core — Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Jason Heyward are all young. Willson Contreras is but a baby. The starters are older, but still fantastic. The front office is unparalleled in the game and team revenues will be near the top of all clubs for the foreseeable future. Dynasties are hard to come by in modern professional sports, but the Cubs stand as good a chance as anyone to become one.

But that’s not what makes this the biggest baseball story of 2016. It’s bigger than that. It, admittedly, involves curses. It involves a club’s identity. The one in which the Cubs were such perpetual losers that they became a punchline in movies, TV shows and literature. A punchline so potent that merely portraying them as winners constituted the entire joke. They were shorthand for “sad sack” and tolerable only because their losing was, at times anyway, lovable.

That’s all over now, though. The Cubs are winners. They flipped the script in 2016 and broke the curses. And they will never be seen in the same way again.

Orioles re-sign Michael Bourn to a minor league deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 04:  Michael Bourn #1 of the Baltimore Orioles hits a single in the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during the American League Wild Card game at Rogers Centre on October 4, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The Orioles have re-signed outfielder Michael Bourn to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Bourn, 34, joined the Orioles last year in a trade from the Diamondbacks on August 31. Though he compiled a meager .669 OPS with the Diamondbacks, Bourn hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with the O’s through the end of the season.

Bourn, a non-roster invitee to camp, will try to play his way onto the Orioles’ 25-man roster. If he does make the roster, Bourn will receive a $2 million salary, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports points out.

Shelby Miller is in the best mental shape of his life

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 24:  Shelby Miller #26 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in the first inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on May 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller had about as bad a season as one can have. He was the headliner in the trade that sent 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson, All-Star outfielder Ender Inciarte, and highly-regarded pitching prospect Aaron Blair to the Braves. It was a trade that was pilloried at the time and continues to be pilloried to this day.

Miller didn’t do then-GM Dave Stewart any favors with his 2016 performance. He went 3-12 with a 6.15 ERA and a 70/42 K/BB ratio over 101 innings. That included a bout with mechanical failure, as he kept hitting the mound with his follow-through. He went on the disabled list. And after that, he was demoted to Triple-A. After getting fired, Stewart expressed remorse over acquiring Miller — or, more accurately, giving up Swanson to do so.

So, the 26-year-old Miller heads into 2017 without any momentum. To his credit, though, he’s going into the new season with a very positive perspective. Via Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

I’m just in a really happy place, away from the field, on the field. […]

Maybe it’s just the way I go about everything, trying to be positive in every single aspect of life. Baseball’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. I know bumps in the road are going to happen. Last year was obviously not just a bump, but a huge mountain. Right now, that’s completely behind me. I’m not worried about any of that.

I’m really ready for this year, ready to redeem myself so much.

Even pitching coach Mike Butcher sees the change in Miller’s mentality. “He’s not a different guy. But you can see there’s a presence in him. That’s what we need. Just be Shelby Miller. You don’t have to live up to anything. Just be yourself.”

Manager Torey Lovullo, too, praised Miller. “I saw a guy who had spent a lot of time taking care of his business in the weight room — he looks fantastic, in fantastic shape,” he said.

It sounds like Miller is not only in great mental shape, but great physical shape, too. Is it the “best shape of his life”? Only time can tell.