When the Cubs avoided the sweep, I had hoped that they could force the NLCS to go back to Los Angeles before a near inevitable elimination. Alas, it was not to be in 2017, as the 0-3 deficit proved too much to overcome.
It wasn’t just the series deficit, but the fact that the Dodgers were just a superior team this year. It didn’t help that the Cubs were tired after a tough series against the Nationals, while the Dodgers sat back for a few days to see which team they would have to deal with. An offense with the big guns in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant slumping uncharacteristically coupled with a pitching staff that was allergic to throwing quality strikes was a recipe for disaster. The Dodgers outplayed the Cubs, while the Cubs compounded the problem by beating themselves at times. That is the nature of playoff baseball, which rewards the team that plays solid fundamental baseball while punishing mistakes disproportionately.
In many ways, I anticipated that the Cubs would have issues against both Washington and LA. Those teams were simply better in 2017 by record and by construction. But playoff baseball tends to be weird, and allows for strange things to happen within the short series. The Cubs were fortunate against the Nats, not so much against the Dodgers. I always hoped for the strangeness to favor the Cubs, but they did need to make their own luck by playing well overall. That did not happen, and now we’re left with another year without the Cubs in the World Series. You will have to forgive me for always hoping for the one big home run or solid base hit to get the wheels moving again, though. I’m just optimistic by nature.
Thankfully, the Cubs did win last year, and are positioned to compete for years to come. The Anno Catuli sign on Sheffield will be mostly zeroes, with a couple of sad number 1s towards the end as the NLCS ends. I get that it makes me a homer, but I anticipate that they will roll it back to all zeroes again before too long.
The Cubs pitching staff will likely lose a host of recent contributors. John Lackey is probably going to retire. Jake Arrieta will get paid, but most likely by another team, which will help the Cubs reclaim a draft pick. I do wonder if they will retain Wade Davis, but given the age and mileage on that arm, I’d prefer they let him walk and reclaim a draft pick too. Brian Duensing was a welcome surprise, but I feel like his performance next year won’t be able to match 2017. There will be some turnover in both the rotation and the bullpen, but I’ll worry about that after the World Series ends.
I believe that their contributions were plentiful in 2016, but there has to be some concern about aging veteran Ben Zobrist and fellow struggling free agent acquisition Jason Heyward going forward. Heyward is going to get all the playing time in 2018 to see if he can find his previous offensive production and perhaps encourage him to opt out of that contract, but I would not hold my breath on that. That contract, in retrospect, was a bust, but it was very much worth it for his defensive prowess and his famous rain delay speech to rally the troops to a championship. That was the “just one before I die” championship most of us had been waiting for, and I think we owe them at least a small amount of gratitude for that, as well as always showing up to work even through all the struggles.
As for Bryant, Rizzo, and the rest of the gang, consider how incredibly young most of them still are. I think there is plenty of blame to go around for the struggles in 2017 as the young players had to deal with back-to-back-to-back deep postseason runs, the expected adjustments of pitchers to them as well as the counter-adjustments, and just a lack of general good fortune as they enjoyed in that magical 2016 season. But they did stay healthy overall, and got plenty of reps in yet another contending year to gain experience and develop as hopefully better players in the long run. The disappointment of coming up short after reaching the Promised Land just a year ago has to be potent fuel for a return trip in 2018. Some of the young players might be dangled as trade bait for reinforcements, but I would be okay if most of them stuck around, as we know from experience how talented they are, and how good they are capable of playing.
We as fans are disappointed that the Cubs couldn’t make it a repeat year, but baseball is a difficult, grinding game, and the fact that they were in the NLCS three years in a row has to be considered a successful run. I would not be surprised at all if the Cubs met the Dodgers or Nats in the NLCS next year as well. Ever since they got here, I have always had confidence in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in setting this franchise up for sustained success. The faith continues to be rewarded, and I am excited to see how the team retools in the winter as we pine for spring training to begin anew.
I’m proud of the Cubs for overcoming adversity and making the playoffs interesting until they ran into a great Dodgers team. They’ll be back, but it won’t be as easy as it was in 2016. The Brewers are going to get better, as we got a sneak peek this year. The Dodgers are not going away anytime soon. Across town, the White Sox are rebuilding a very exciting young club. The Nationals still have another year of Bryce Harper and a strong core of their own. However, the Cubs aren’t going away anytime soon either.
But first, let’s see who the Dodgers will have to face in the World Series. Perhaps we should root for former Cub Starlin Castro and the Yankees? Or maybe Jose Altuve and his pocket-sized awesomeness? It should be a great World Series, but I doubt it would be as fun as last year. Memories live forever, though, and new memories are just waiting to be made come 2018.