Last night, the Cubs finished their third season under Joe Maddon's leadership, and when laid out objectively, the success can't be argued against:
- Nearly 300 regular season wins
- Reached the NLCS in all three seasons
- World Series championship
It's only when we nitpick in some of the minutiae that we find a different list, one of flaws and shortcomings. But that last bullet point should be enough to wash away all of that, but I suppose that so many decades of failure and frustration don't get scrubbed off so easily.
But coming off of the World Series last season, many of us as amateur prognosticators spent March dreaming on another 100-win season and easy trip back to the Fall Classic. I was one of these, I think predicting a modest and rational 97 wins for the season and double-digit lead in the division.
Of course, it wasn't like that. The Cubs looked likely to miss the postseason altogether until after the All-Star break, and even then, it took them until nearly the final week of the season to secure their spot in the NLDS. So many of the things that could have gone wrong did go wrong, and the with-ease success we anticipated for the season didn't happen.
Because of this, it's easy to take the wrong perspective on how the 2017 season turned out. In fact, many voices -- even some in Chicago -- are already calling for a stop on the Cubs dynasty talk.
And that's their right. It's any easy take to have after the Cubs got stomped 11-1 in Game 5 of the NLCS against a Dodgers team currently playing like it will not lose a series again until 2022. But let's take a different perspective.
It is well-documented that it is incredibly challenging for the defending World Series champion to repeat. That hasn't been done since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000. Since then, the last World Series champion to even make the postseason at all was the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 after their 2008 victory. Even as the San Franscisco Giants were putting together their 2010s dynasty, they missed the postseason altogether each year after they won the World Series.
So when the 2017 Cubs not only returned to the playoffs, but advanced to the NLCS, they did something that has not happened since 2012, when the St. Louis Cardinals advanced that far after winning the World Series in 2011.
It's cute, then, to brush off the Cubs and assume they'll just quietly return to the cellar and wait another century or so before returning for another championship parade, but it's just cheap analysis.
True, this year the Cubs somehow -- I'm still mystified by it -- coasted on fumes past the Nationals in the division series and nabbed a third consecutive championship series berth, but we saw the shortcomings pretty easily: the pitching staff struggled throughout the postseason to throw strikes and keep runners off of the bases, the defense turned sloppy at times, and the offense vaporized. It's that last one that had the heaviest hand in doing them in; consider that in the NLCS the Cubs did not manufacture a single run. All of the runs they scored came via longball, and unless you're somehow going full Home Run Derby in the playoffs, you're just not going to win that way.
But, looking ahead, the Cubs shot at a dynasty is not even close to used up.
The staples of their roster, most of them bats, are still ludicrously young and have accumulated a boatload of postseason experience in the last three seasons. Going forward, the starting rotation will have holes to fill, but there's still Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Jose Quintana. Most teams in baseball would beg for that. In the bullpen, the Cubs have need, and maybe a bounceback in 2018 from Justin Wilson allays some of our fears, but there remain several live arms among the relievers.
Len Kasper called these the golden years of the Chicago Cubs, and they really are. We have had the great joy of three very successful seasons in a row -- so much so that we have almost become spoiled by the winning and all the less able to accept with grace that losses, too, are unavoidable, especially in baseball -- and there is little reason not to think that we won't be watching at least a few more in the years ahead.