While the Cubs NLCS performance was nothing short of a nightmare, in the greater scheme of things it is only a stepping stone to a future of many years of great baseball. Call it what you want, a collapse, a choke, an epic meltdown, but to any true Cubs fan four ugly games of baseball are nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly are not any reason to sway belief in the future of the organization.
With their young roster, the Cubs weren’t even projected to have this type of success until next season. Their accomplishments this season are remarkable and truly something for Cubs fans to be proud of. While winning it all would have been the optimal outcome, this playoff experience has given the Cubs a great opportunity to learn and come out stronger and more prepared for future postseason appearances, of which I believe there will be many.
In reality, the difference in the Cubs Vs. Mets series was not talent, but an absence of composure caused by the lack of experience in the Cubs lineup. Due to the cubs youth, Anthony Rizzo was given a huge leadership role yet having never appeared in a postseason game. And while Rizzo is a tremendous athlete, there really is nothing that can even come close to simulating the pressure of playoff baseball. The Club also intended to ride behind the pitching leadership of Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta and playoff veteran Jon Lester, but neither was able to perform at the top of their game.
In addition to their leadership struggles, the Cubs original postseason starting line-up included four rookies: Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler, fellow rookie Javier Baez would end up taking the spot of Russell after he suffered a hamstring injury in the NLDS. And while the youth of the Cubs lineup contains an abundance of talent, it undoubtedly created much tentativeness on the field. This rookie tentativeness accounted for three postseason errors along with two epic outfield blunders from Soler and Schwarber in games 3 and 4 of the NLCS.
Beyond the physical result of Cubs inexperience, they completely lost of control mentally. When their bats were not on fire, the Cubs couldn’t find a way to gain momentum and seemed to play lifelessly. If things went wrong, like strikeouts or errors, they completely lost their composure, appearing physically frazzled and distraught. Baseball is a game of failure. Succeeding 35% of the time classifies you as being a great hitter, but what is really behind the 35% success rate is the response to the other 65% of the time. There is no successful baseball player who goes on the field looking like he just lost his dog every time something goes wrong. Unfortunately, that’s what many of the Chicago Cubs looked like during times of adversity in the NLCS.
The Cubs needed to have a more resilient mindset and to realize that when facing one of the best teams in baseball having everything go your way is simply impossible. When the going gets tough, that’s no time to get going, but that’s the time that the best athletes step up and fight and outwork their opponents. To accomplish this a player must realize that when it seems nothing is going your way, rather than focus on everything that seems to be collapsing around you, the only way to be successful is to do the best at everything within your control. This is an enormous challenge, and one that this year’s Cubs failed to conquer.
A prime example of the Cubs lack of mental fortitude took place in Game 4 of the NLCS. With the Cubs trailing 6-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler hit a pop up to right field between Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson and second baseman Daniel Murphy. Of the bat, it appeared to be a tough but catchable ball, and so instead of hustling down the first base-line Fowler jogged towards first base. As a result, when the Mets weren’t able to make the play, Fowler was held to a single when he very easily could have had a double. And while this may seem like such a small detail, it’s the effort and attitude displayed in situations like those that separate the good teams from the Championship type teams. Championship teams don’t separate themselves from the rest magically, but by doing an assortment of little things that add up.
Although the Cubs downfalls may appear vaste, they are nothing more than great opportunities to learn and brighten the future of the organization. The next time the Cubs are in the playoffs, they will be a team with a great playoff run under their belt, having learned from their experience. And their lineup full of sluggers in Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, and Soler probably won’t hurt either.
Add to that the phenomenal pitching of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Hector Rondon and put it under the brilliance of manager Joe Maddon and President Theo Epstein, and I’d say Chicago is going to be the home of a force to be reckoned with. And sure, the next few days may be filled with mourning for many Cubs fans, but going forward there should be nothing but excitement as to what this ball club is capable of. The future is here, and it couldn’t be brighter.
Sincerely, Jenny Goldsher