My, how things have changed at the corner of Clark and Addison.
Wrigley Field was once home of the “Lovable Losers” and now it houses a 95-win team that just made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season for the first time in the history of the franchise and yet everybody is unhappy.
Thus is the nature of “World Series or bust” expectations.
And that’s exactly what the Cubs have here now.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing the Cubs and their fans are unhappy right now after a 2-1 loss in the thrilling — and stressful — 13-inning Wild-Card Game.
We are truly in the golden era of Cubs baseball. So much so that a reporter cited Derek Jeter and the powerhouse Yankees when comparing the culture in a clubhouse that used to be home of the team with the longest championship drought in professional sports history.
Jeter and the Yankees expected to win the World Series every single year.
Now, Kris Bryant and the Cubs have the same goals and anything less is a disappointment.
“Absolutely. We totally feel that,” Bryant said. “After we won in 2016, it was a World Series or bust attitude. I mean, that’s the right attitude to have. You play to be the last team standing. You don’t play just to make the playoffs.
“I think we’ve kinda built that culture up here that we are some of the best Chicago Cub teams that they’ve ever fielded and we take that and I’m pretty proud of that. We wanna go out there and win, but this year just wasn’t our year.”
This is the earliest young players like Bryant and Kyle Schwarber have had their seasons end since joining the big-league roster in 2015. They weren’t even sure what to do with themselves in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, spending time hugging each other or just sitting at their locker staring speechless into space.
A handful of players still hadn’t showered or changed out of their uniforms more than an hour after the final out. Javy Baez talked to the media with eye black smeared all over his face.
Most of the Cubs players were asked how they would sum up this season and if it would be considered a success or not despite 95 wins, a run in first place that lasted for the entire second half of the season and took a Game 163 to dethrone.
Albert Almora Jr. didn’t even let a reporter finish the question.
“No. No. We lost,” Almora said. “There’s a lot of positives, but it’s not a success unless we win. That’s just the mindset that we have here. There were a lot of positives throughout the way. A lot of character grew in this clubhouse. That’s all we can ask for, man.
“Unfortunately, this league is unbelievably hard and we’re trying to get to the World Series, trying to win another World Series. It’s good players out there and I think we did a great job with the hand we were dealt and we never gave up.”
The hand the Cubs were dealt does include a brutal stretch to close out the regular season (only one off-day over the final 5-plus weeks) and then a tiebreaker the day before the win-or-go-home postseason game.
But nobody used that as an excuse in the Cubs clubhouse and they don’t feel like they choked down the stretch to let the Brewers take the division. After all, Milwaukee had to win its final 8 games in a row just to be able to sit alone atop the NL Central.
“There’s a couple goals throughout the season that you set out to do and obviously to win the division first and then move on to the World Series,” Jon Lester said. “Sometimes you can’t always control what goes on around you. But at the end of the day, I feel like coming down the stretch, we played good baseball. It wasn’t like we beat ourselves.
“Sometimes you gotta tip your hat to the opponent. I mean, you go 13 innings tonight against a really good team and we come out on the short end of the stick. But I feel like we shoulda won that game.”
Jason Heyward’s voice and perspective carries a lot of weight in that clubhouse and he isn’t here for consolation prizes.
“Successful? Well, I’ll tell you the way we go about things here,” Heyward said. “We didn’t pop any bottles this year. Tonight, of course, if we had won, we would’ve popped bottles. We had plenty to toast to. And we don’t take postseasons for granted, we don’t take winning for granted.
“But our mindset is World Series or no. So that’s kind of where our head is. It’s a successful season. We were in the postseason, we played after the regular season. But where we want to go is win the World Series and that didn’t happen for us this year.”
Anthony Rizzo is the face of the Cubs franchise and was a gigantic reason why they won it all in 2016.
But he’s seen it all in his 7 years in a Cubs uniform and certainly remembers what a 101-loss season feels like.
“In 2015, we were winning the Wild-Card game no matter what,” Rizzo said. “In 2018, I’d say fans were pissed that we were in the Wild-Card game because we had a chance to win the division, we didn’t. But we’ve really flipped this culture here in the Chicago Cubs organization to being winners, and we fell short this year.”
Schwarber was positive as always, looking ahead to bigger and better things in 2019.
“Right now it’s hard to swallow for all of us, but the big picture is we’ve done a lot of things here in the last couple years the Cubs faithful should be very proud of,” Schwarber said. “And we’re expecting bigger things each and every year. So hang with us. Obviously, we’re all going to take our time here to swallow it, and trust us, we’ll be back and better than ever next year.”
Nobody knows yet what changes this offseason will bring, but one thing’s for certain — the Cubs’ main goal in 2019 will absolutely be another World Series trophy.