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Closing the book on 2017: 5 things we learned from this Cubs postseason

Closing the book on 2017: 5 things we learned from this Cubs postseason

Hey, there's always last year.

The Cubs' 2017 season is now over, by virtue of an 11-1 drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday night at a shell-shocked Wrigley Field.

The Cubs are not going to enter their name into the history books (for any good reason, anyways. Their postseason batting average on the other hand...)

Wednesday's nail-biting win over the Dodgers was something of a last tribute to the ever-loyal fanbase and not actually the beginning of a comeback from down 0-3 in the NLCS.

There will be plenty of time — all winter, actually — to digest this Cubs season, but here are five quick takeaways entering the offseason:

The bullpen is the No. 1 area of need.

That's obvious to anybody who's watched any Cubs game this postseason.

The only reliever Maddon truly trusted all October was Wade Davis, and he even he finished with a 4.26 ERA and 1.72 WHIP.

Pedro Strop and Brian Duensing flew under the radar with an overall solid body of work this postseason. Strop will be back next year, but Duensing is a free agent and was one of the best bargains in baseball at a $2 million salary for 2017.

Davis is also a free agent and Carl Edwards Jr. certainly doesn't look to be ascending into that closer's role anytime soon. The Cubs thought they were getting a guy who could close in 2018 when they acquired Justin Wilson at the trade deadline, but the lefty wasn't even active for the NLCS.

Shoring up the bullpen will be the primary concern for Theo Epstein's front office this winter, especially with how important relievers have become in October the last few falls.

Hangovers are real.

The Cubs have shown signs of having a World Series hangover the entirety of 2017 — mentally, physically, emotionally.

The first half of the season proved that, but the Cubs have not been the same team with a relentless lineup this entire postseason. They topped three runs in only one of 10 postseason games, and in that one (Game 5), they took advantage more of Washington's mistakes rather than hitting the crap out of the ball.

The Cubs just looked out of gas in the NLCS, which is understandable. They've played more baseball than any other team (by a sizable margin) the last three seasons, playing into November last year. Throw in all the national TV appearances and street dedications and all that jazz and the winter was amazingly short for Joe Maddon and Co.

But even looking just at this fall, the Cubs never quite recovered from the hangover of that epic Game 5 in the NLDS. They left so much on that field in Washington D.C. and never found their rhythm again after.

The Cubs have an amazing library of resiliency to draw confidence from.

As if Game 7 and the 2016 postseason run wasn't enough, this Cubs core found so many more reasons for confidence this October.

So they were being no-hit by a Cy Young finalist in the latter innings of a game. They could still pull off a victory, which they did twice in the NLDS.

So they had their backs against the wall in both the NLDS and NLCS. They responded with wins in their first two elimination games of the postseason.

That NLDS finale alone will be something they can draw on for the rest of their careers, much like Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

The Cubs' lineup needs more.

Epstein's front office has invested so much in young hitting over the last few years, but this was not a banner month for those guys.

Bryzzo Souvenir Co. had a particularly rough showing, with Kris Bryant's only postseason homer coming when his team was already down 9-0 in an elimination game against the Dodgers.

Anthony Rizzo yelled "RESPECT ME!" after a bloop basehit against the Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS and went hitless in his next 16 at-bats right after that.

And when Bryzzo doesn't hit, this lineup looks a whole lot different. That same thing can be said about any team in baseball if you take the two best hitters out of the equation, but given the youth of the Cubs offense, they needed their MVP candidates.

But this October also proved how necessary a leadoff hitter is for the team, shining even more light on the absence of Dexter Fowler.

Ben Zobrist had a forgettable 2017 season from start to finish and wound up hitless in the NLCS and with just a .160 batting average this postseason. This is a guy who spent all of last October protecting Bryzzo in the lineup and winning World Series MVP honors.

The Cubs struck out 105 times in 10 postseason games while hitting just nine homers (most of which were of the solo variety). 

The offense's undoing also put more pressure on the pitching staff — and bullpen in general — all postseason.

The Cubs lineup may look a bit different in 2018 with guys like Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ possibly playing more.

But Zobrist is still under contract and will be 37. Jason Heyward (and his .108 postseason batting average in a Cubs uniform) hasn't provided the offensive production in October the Cubs hoped for when they inked him to a $184 million deal (though he gives one hell of a speech and is a great presence in the clubhouse and in the outfield).

It'll be interesting to see what the Cubs do to address the leadoff position this winter, but other than that, almost the entire crew will be back.

And keep in mind: This is a small sample size that just so happened to come at the wrong time for the Cubs. There's also the fact they went up against elite pitcher after elite pitcher this October, but such is life in the postseason.

Last fall was filled with clutch, timely hits from guys like Addison Russell, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras and all three of those guys didn't have the same impact this year.

This truly is the golden era of Cubs baseball.

Len Kasper summed up this season perfectly as the calendar flipped to October:

It really is a great time to be a Cubs fan, even if they aren't getting a shot to take home a second straight championship.

All the postseason statistical leaders in franchise history play on this team right now.

Consider: 

—The top five spots on the most RBI in Cubs postseason history are Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber.

—Jake Arrieta has the most wins (5) in Cubs postseason history.

—Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are 1-2-3 in Cubs postseason strikeout history.

—Bryant and Rizzo lead the franchise in postseason hits while Baez is tied for fourth.

After so many years of losing, this team not only ended the 108-year title drought but also made it to the NLCS for three straight seasons. That's a remarkable stretch of success that doesn't figure to end anytime soon with how much of the core is back for 2018 and beyond.

If you told Cubs fans five years ago they would be one of the last four teams left alive in Major League Baseball for three straight seasons and have a World Series championship in that span, every single fan would sell their soul for that chance.

Regardless of how it ended, the 2017 Cubs season was an overwhelming, smashing success.

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: