By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) To be honest with oneself as a Chicago Cubs fan is no small task. I mean, it was a lifetime of next years to suddenly being the mule with the spinning wheel, which feels so closer than a year ago and so suddenly very much past.
The 2017 Cubs never fit quite right. Like a genuine imitation World Series champion cap from a guy who knows a guy, it looked real and did the job fine enough, but it never felt totally comfortable.
Pitchers pitched well enough most of the time. Hitters produced the second-most runs in the National League, yet they always felt like the streakiest and droughtiest offense going. Manager Joe Maddon made questionable decisions but remained a valuable presence.
The Cubs won the NL Central with a little more sweat than was expected, which made wearing them sort of itchy but doable. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but this version of the team didn’t give you the anything feel. The National League Divisional Series win over the Nationals took years off of viewers’ lives and pitchers’ arms, and neither ever seemed to recover. And still there was lying to oneself about the Los Angeles Dodgers being beatable because of (mumbling, squinting at Fangraphs).
Losing the first two games in Los Angeles really strained the excuses for reclaiming the series at Wrigley Field, and when the Cubs lost Game 3, there was a resignation of hospice. The Game 4 win was cute but not even close to convincing anyone but the worst denialists that anything had shifted.
“This is going to sound really crazy, but I think all the pressure is on the Dodgers,” Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. said then. “You look at the 2004 Boston team. The pressure was on the Yankees to finish the job. By the looks in the eyes of the media and fans, the season is over for us. I know there is nobody in this clubhouse that believes that. The pressure is still on them to finish us off. But each day, we are going to come with our best to keep this series going.”
Kids say the darnedest things. Honestly, winning one game — that took your closer 48 pitches to finish — didn’t negate this series still needing to die sooner than later. No more twitchy bullpen and measly solo homers. Fun and hope and the ability to deal with the stress of it were all desiccated with the leaves.
The Dodgers, a villain with humanity, obliged and did one quick to the back of the head in Game 5, ending all feeling before anyone had a chance to appreciate the mercy. They should be thanked for not waiting until the later innings or dragging the Cubs back West for no good reason. And for allowing a bit of dignity in a gentleman’s sweep.
We can proclaim these Cubs dead finally. It sucks, despite the inevitability. Relieving, too. Now the eulogies, the remember whens. “Hey, it ended on the seven-year anniversary of the hiring of Mike Quade, lol.” The pain soon subsides.
But long shall the Cubs live. Not the 2017 version, so much, but what 2015 was to a 2016 World Series so may 2017 be to the beyond. The “sustained success” that Theo Epstein mentioned the day he was introduced as the new team president of baseball operations is here still and will be for the foreseeable future. We know this. This is truth. It’s honesty.
Now you take inventory and fix holes. You maybe swap a Jake Arrieta for fond memories and a Yu Darvish. You find next year’s Wade Davis and Jon Jay, which could be Wade Davis or Jon Jay. You keep paying Ben Zobrist and his walkup music, but you continue to invest in the gold that is Willson Contreras. You maybe ship off a younger player who takes everyone by surprise. You name John Lackey official team ambassador to Chicagoland’s railyards. You keep being a successful organization that neither rests nor pouts.
Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are the best hands to be in. Everything is still pretty damn good in Cubdom.
Then you return in 2018 as the favorite to win the division again while knowing that the Milwaukee Brewers will be a bigger pain next year and that the St. Louis Satans are always there. You make a pretty good case for a fourth consecutive NLCS. You’re still immensely talented and have the benefit of a healthy wallet.
It will be sunny and warm again at Wrigley Field soon enough, though the wait between now and next spring training will dwarf the blip that it was between last November and February. Another postseason awaits 11 long months from now.
The Cubs live on. Honest.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.