So, serious question …
If the Cubs had won either Game 163 or 164, do you really think they would’ve had a chance against Milwaukee?
Based on the way they played the final month, as gallant an effort as it might have been under the circumstances, by the time they reached the final week of the season it was clear the Cubs weren’t likely to win a series in the postseason.
And though a victory in one of those last two games would have given them a puncher’s chance, it hardly felt like the Cubs were trending in the right direction.
“I would never bet against the heart of this team, because I believe in these guys and I’ve seen them overcome a lot,” said Cubs president Theo Epstein. “But … if we’re being honest, I think we had a lot of things working against us.”
Yeah, Epstein saw what everyone else saw. That’s not surprising, nor was his customary honesty as he closed the season last week with a news conference.
“The offensive issues were there the entire second half, including down the stretch in the biggest games of the year, the biggest home stand of the year, the tiebreaker game, the Wild Card Game,” Epstein said before Milwaukee crushed Colorado in the NLDS. “So to think that all of a sudden we would have snapped out of it in Milwaukee is maybe more hopeful thinking than anything else.
“But I would have liked the opportunity.”
Despite the difficultly scoring runs and managing a bullpen that was great in numbers and thin on top-grade talent, Epstein also saw a bright side.
“Look at all the good things that happened,” Epstein said. “With a lot of names that were different than what we expected, we crushed the run prevention there.
“Look at (the Wild Card Game). There were some unbelievable performances by guys.
“Our starting pitching was locked in the whole second half of the season.
“Our bullpen, we were finding a way without the two (closers) who usually pitched (late) in games.
“I would have liked to see the heart of our group have an opportunity to overcome some things.”
But the reality is the Cubs were cooked and everyone knew it. They were hanging on by a thread and they were facing several teams in the National League peaking at the perfect time.
“We were diminished,” Epstein admitted. “There are some years — and this is the goal — there are some years when the talent you have on paper is there, and through the course of the season that talent synthesizes and it finds a way to manifest and you get stronger as the year goes on.
“And by the end of the year you’re feeling like you can beat anybody.
“You say, ‘We’re gonna be a tough team to beat. The other team might beat us, but they’re gonna have to do a lot of things well to beat us. We’re a tough out.’
“Now, this year, because of what we went through with the pitching in the first half and then the offense in the second half, and then the injuries on top of it and everything else that occurred this year, it felt like the opposite.
“It felt like to start the year the talent was there on paper and instead of the talent synthesizing through the course of the year, it almost felt like an erosion through the course of the year.
“Some things got in the way with some players physically, and we had a couple players perform way below expectations because the mental side of the game got in the way for them, and that’s something we have to tackle and get better at.”
Watching what Milwaukee did to Colorado is just more evidence of what the Brewers would have probably done to the Cubs.
“Did we feel a 100 percent and like the team to beat, that we were an incredibly tough out had we won that (Wild Card Game)?” Epstein wondered aloud. “Not to the extent that we would have liked.
“It was more like betting on the people we had and the heart we have, and how tough they are, than it was looking at that team on paper and saying, ‘Hey, it’s all come together the way we wanted.’
It’s an unfortunate truth for a team that won 95 games and valiantly fought through a brutal stretch of games despite injuries and poor performances.
Nevertheless, truth it is.