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Dodgers 11, Cubs 1: On to 2018

The Cubs lost. But they are no longer “losers.”

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

For a very long time, for longer than any of us likely wishes to remember, for longer than most of our lifetimes, the Cubs were known as “Lovable Losers.” It wasn’t a tag that many of us enjoyed wearing, either for the losing itself or the connotations of the phrase.

After the Cubs won the World Series a year ago and that phrase was consigned to history, the comedian Bill Murray, in the immediate aftermath of the triumph, said: “We became such great losers, good sports. I just hope we’re good winners.”

The Cubs lost Thursday night 11-1 to the Dodgers, and so the Dodgers head to the World Series and the Cubs go home for the winter. And I hope we, as Cubs fans, have become those “good winners,” because now we return to being “good sports.” We have scaled the mountaintop, understood what it takes to get there and, just a year later, I hope we understand just how difficult it is to get to those heights. The Cubs lost, but they are most certainly not “losers.” That, in my view, is gone, gone forever.

You surely don’t need a traditional recap from me as to what happened in Thursday’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The Cubs were outclassed by a better team from first pitch to last out; the Dodgers had a regular season in 2017 very much like the Cubs’ run through 2016 and were, and are, the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series when it ends a week or two from now, and I send my congratulations to the new N.L. champions.

About the only thing worth saying about the thorough domination that the Dodgers showed in Game 5 is that the 42,735 at Wrigley Field and those of you watching the demolition on TV is that you witnessed a record event: Kiké Hernandez, not really known as a power hitter, at least compared to several of his teammates, became the 10th player in postseason history to hit three home runs in a game, and his seven RBI tied a postseason record and set a LCS record. In doing so, Hernandez joined a “which one of these guy doesn’t belong on this” list:

You certainly don’t need me to rehash Jose Quintana’s bad outing, or the fact that when Kris Bryant finally homered, it meant absolutely nothing other than avoiding an embarrassing shutout. (Thought exercise: Would it have been worse to lose an elimination game 11-0, or was 11-1 bad enough?)

The 2017 Cubs, winners of 90+ games for the third straight season (first time the franchise had done that since 1928-29-30), were a deeply flawed baseball club. That might sound like a harsh judgment for a 92-win division champion, but it’s true. The starting rotation was awful until the All-Star break and four of its members either spent time on the disabled list or missed starts with injuries. (In fact, I suspect in the coming days we might learn that many Cubs are more banged up than we’ve been led to believe.)

The bullpen was erratic and at times simply forgot how to throw strikes. I have pointed out here a number of times that the 2017 Cubs scored more runs (822) than their 2016 counterparts (808), but that’s skewed to some extent: the 2016 Cubs were shut out six times, to 10 this year, and this year’s Cubs scored 17 runs in a game three times. Last year’s champion Cubs peaked at 16, and did that just once.

The Dodgers celebrated their league championship on the field at Wrigley, as the Cubs posted a congratulatory message on the video board, and then departed for, presumably, bigger festivities in their clubhouse. A dwindling number of fans, myself included, hung around Wrigley not just to say farewell to Cubs baseball for 2017, but perhaps hoping the team would (as they did in 2015) make an appearance out of the clubhouse to say goodbye themselves.

That didn’t happen, and looking back that’s probably appropriate. The 2015 Cubs were a revelation, a team that hit the postseason running and got stopped by outstanding pitching, and deserved that one final nod. This year’s bunch ran out of gas and were eliminated by a far better team, even after they hung on this far by defeating a team that probably also had more talent. Ask the 2017 Cleveland Indians how far “being the better regular-season team” got them this fall, and you might also have to ask the Houston Astros that question 24 hours or so from now. Winning it all is hard, as we learned last year, and that circles me back to the thought that began this recap, of “winners” and “losers.”

The Cubs lost, and someone else won, and the only thing that matters is that the management and ownership of our favorite team should redouble their efforts this winter to analyze exactly what went wrong, and how to fix it, so that the celebration we witnessed Thursday night by the team wearing road gray at Wrigley Field can, instead, be had by the guys wearing blue pinstripes. Some of your favorites, and mine, likely won’t be back, and that’s the natural progression of baseball. Teams change their composition over time in attempts to win, and it’s certainly my hope that Theo & Co. put the best possible team on the field beginning March 29, 2018 in Miami, in order to do just that next year.

On this site, we will, of course, have plenty of discussion of said efforts over this winter, as well as some Cubs and baseball history, and game threads for every remaining postseason game, including Friday night’s Astros/Yankees contest.

It’s only a bit more than four months until the Cubs will take the field again for their first spring training contest in the bright sunshine of Arizona, and with the thought of that warm season of anticipation I will leave the 2017 baseball season as I have left many other past baseball years, with the beautifully written words of former Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, from his 1977 essay “The Green Fields of the Mind”:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.