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Epstein proud of how Cubs have handled expectations

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- This season is Theo Epstein's fifth as the Cubs' president of baseball operations, and it's been a blast.

The Cubs went 61-101 in 2012 in Epstein's first year at the helm, and this season, they have the best record in the Major Leagues, clinched the National League Central and are on pace for more than 100 wins.

Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- This season is Theo Epstein's fifth as the Cubs' president of baseball operations, and it's been a blast.

The Cubs went 61-101 in 2012 in Epstein's first year at the helm, and this season, they have the best record in the Major Leagues, clinched the National League Central and are on pace for more than 100 wins.

Full Game Coverage

"This year is really different from last year, because of all the expectations we had coming in," Epstein said Thursday. "Last year, we were able to sneak up on people and go on a joy ride in the second half of the season into October. It almost felt like the only thing that mattered was what was going on in the clubhouse.

"This year, before we even reported to Spring Training, there were all these expectations and that kind of crept into the clubhouse and the guys handled it incredibly well and embraced the challenge and didn't back down from any situations."

In 2015, the Cubs won 97 games, secured a National League Wild Card berth, then ousted the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game before beating their rivals, the Cardinals, in the NL Division Series. But the ride ended when they were swept by the Mets in the NL Championship Series.

Can Epstein compare the Cubs at all with what he did with the Red Sox?

"It'd be great if there were parallels between the '03 Red Sox to the '15 Cubs, and then therefore, the '04 Red Sox to the '16 Cubs," he said of the 2004 Boston team that won a World Series. "Every group is unique and we'll see how it plays out. This year's team has distinguished itself for every challenge thrown it's way, including expectations."

Epstein hasn't taken time to reflect on what he and his staff have accomplished.

"It's not navel-gazing time just yet," he said. "We have a lot ahead of us. It all boils down to how you perform in October. We're rightfully proud of the regular season we've had, and it's meaningful, but it's never time to look back after that. If you have a good enough regular season, it's time to play for what really matters. We're on the doorstep of that, and that's what we're focused on."

The Cubs lost, 5-4, to the Brewers on Thursday at Wrigley Field, but they clinched the Central Division shortly before midnight when the Giants beat the Cardinals, 6-2, at AT&T Park. Epstein said the staff has had general conversations regarding the playoff roster, but they won't finalize anything until they know who their opponent will be. If the Cubs do post the best record in the NL, they will face the Wild Card winner in the Division Series.

For now, Epstein is enjoying the team, along with the Cubs fans.

"It's a blast," he said. "It's a great bunch of guys to be around every day. Last year was our breakthrough season where we snuck up on people. There was an innocence about the whole thing that was memorable and special. I wondered if it was possible to have as much fun in a year with much different expectations coming in, and it's proven to be just as fun."

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.

Chicago Cubs