This might have been the best chance for the Cubs to win a World Series in your lifetime. Or it could have been the opening scene for a dynasty. The point is you never know.
Yes, this franchise is positioned to get back to October over and over again, but there are zero guarantees. The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy, developed a special chemistry and shattered all their internal projections for a talented young nucleus.
That’s why this should sting, even with all the unexpected good times at Wrigley Field this summer, the laugh-out-loud quotes from manager Joe Maddon, the quantum leaps made by rookies Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, the spontaneous clapping to the music when Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro walked up to home plate.
But it’s not like the New York Mets are a smoke-and-mirrors team that just swept the National League Championship Series with Wednesday night’s 8-3 victory in Game 4, leading for all 36 innings and showing their foundation should be built to last.
“I don’t want any of the guys to take it for granted,” catcher Miguel Montero said afterward. “You got to remember we maybe made it look a little easy the first year and we got to the NLCS. But don’t take it for granted. And I say that because I lived that before.”
Montero had been part of the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks team that swept Lou Piniella’s Cubs in the divisional round – and then got swept by the Colorado Rockies – and wound up finishing two games over .500 in 2008.
“We were a young team who got to the NLCS,” Montero said. “A year later, we didn’t do anything. We played good, but not good enough. That’s my advice: Don’t take it for granted.
“Next year, just get to spring training with the same intensity, even hungrier than this year, so we finish what we started.”
The Cubs still haven’t advanced to the World Series since 1945 or won a championship in 107 years, the longest droughts in North American professional sports.
With Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have four frontline starters between the ages of 22 and 27. That group limited the Cubs to six runs across 25 innings, notching 29 strikeouts by mixing speeds, hitting spots and consistently approaching triple-digit velocity.
“With good health, these guys are going to be good for many years to come,” manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s no question.”
Remember, the Cubs finished third in the division behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Washington Nationals are still stacked with perennial MVP (Bryce Harper) and Cy Young Award (Max Scherzer) candidates. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a seemingly unlimited checkbook to fix a 92-win team. The San Francisco Giants have those three World Series titles since 2010.
It’s going to get more complicated now, bigger egos and bigger expectations surrounding this team. The harsh reality for the 2016 Cubs is that winning 90-plus games will be met with so-what shrugs and not the shaking-your-head, what-just-happened looks of joy and amazement.
That’s why president of baseball operations Theo Epstein understood this would be the end of the innocence, relating it to a conversation with his old buddy, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
The 2015 Cubs would be like the band that catches fire with a first record, bursting onto the national scene, enjoying the newfound fame and then having to deal with the backlash.
“It stings right now getting swept,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “But to be one of four standing at the end of the year and still playing meaningful games in the middle of October is pretty special. We got to be happy with that. Use it as some motivation moving forward.”
[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]
At this point, it’s unclear what a playoff push means for next year’s payroll and when the Cubs will be able to strike it rich with their next TV deal.
The David Price rumors started months – if not years – ago and the Cubs will probably need to add at least two legitimate starting pitchers to their rotation. Russell appears to be untouchable as the franchise shortstop, but trading Castro or Javier Baez could help address the organization’s pitching deficit.
The Cubs will likely explore the possibility of a long-term deal for Arrieta, who won’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season. But super-agent Scott Boras won’t do a team-friendly deal and wants his clients to test the open market.
The Cubs will give Dexter Fowler the qualifying offer and expect him to get paid elsewhere, meaning they will probably be looking for someone else to hit leadoff and play center field.
The Cubs can upgrade their bullpen, get better defensively and cash in some prospects for real big-league players in win-now trades. But The Plan is now clearly in place.
“We have a good idea of things we’ll potentially be able to accomplish in the future with the group of guys that are here,” Arrieta said. “I’m not big on outside expectations, but I think that we exceeded pretty much anybody’s expectations for the way we were able to play as a team throughout the season.
“Still playing meaningful games in the middle of October is really important and a very valuable experience for everybody involved. Moving forward, it’s only going to make us better.”