CHICAGO – Perhaps it’s too early in the moment to make a snap judgement on a campaign that lasted six months, but Albert Almora Jr. had his answer to a common question to the Cubs early Wednesday morning.
“Was this a successful season?” was a common inquiry by reporters in the locker room at Wrigley Field. It came moments after a crushing, season-ending 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card Game.
Almora’s answer was straightforward.
“No. We lost,” said the outfielder. “But there is a lot of positives, but it’s not a success unless we win.”
Welcome to this era of Cubs baseball. The “Lovable Losers” moniker is long dead and buried. Not even success can be successful enough for a franchise that has set the bar quite high.
It made the clubhouse after the Wild Card game quite disappointed, a little tearful, and a healthy amount of frustration. Such a reaction is understandable since the team is out of the playoffs before the National League Championship Series for the first time in the Joe Maddon era. It comes as the Cubs dropped a five-game lead at the start of September in the National League Central division and even a 2 1/2 game lead with just over a week to go in the season.
They didn’t choke – the Brewers won their final eight games including the one-game tiebreaker at Wrigley Field to win it. One loss in that stretch, and the Cubs would have sealed up the division most years. But Milwaukee got hot at the right time to squeeze their way into the National League Division Series.
Also, two runs in the final 22 innings of the series doesn’t help.
“It sucks, it sucks, it sucks losing this early,” said Anthony Rizzo. “It’s been a while since we’ve done that.”
It brings a tough end to what was a up-and-down, adversity-filled season for the Cubs despite their strong record. Injuries derailed the debut of free agent pickup Yu Darvish, who was inconsistent in his first two months before arm injuries ended his season. Brandon Morrow lost the final few months of the season with injury while Tyler Chatwood was wildly inconsistent and lost his spot in the starting rotation.
Kris Bryant’s season was derailed by separate stints on the DL with shoulder issues, while Willson Contreras was never able to find the power that was such a big part of his 2017 season. Despite all of that, the Cubs were just a win short of winning a third-straight NL Central title, the best record in the National League, and a NLDS appearance. Yet just getting to that point felt at times like a struggle.
“We struggled the whole year, the whole year,” said Javier Baez, who was the highlight of the season as he hit .290 with 34 homers and 111 RBI. “We kept going ‘we’re gonna get it back, we’re gonna be together’ but it never came to us. We were never in a rhythm of winning games.”
The question of why might have been addressed by Jon Lester after the game, when he was clear that the defeat might be something to right the mindset in the clubhouse.
“You can only learn from losing. Obviously that’s not what anybody wants to hear. I feel like this will be good for us moving forward,” said the starter after the game.
Team president Theo Epstein concurs, and expanded on Lester’s comments in his end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field on Wednesday.
“I don’t think there is a fatal flaw at all in the clubhouse. I just think, if we’re being honest about it, as Jon Lester said, maybe this will be good for us,” said Epstein. “Because if you just show up, playing it cool, knowing your talented, knowing it’s a long season, and trusting that the talent will manifest over the course of 162, sometimes you end up one game short, and that’s not who were are.
“It’s not who we want to be, it’s not who we’re all about and I think we have to own that and we have to recognize it and I think our players do from talking to them today.”
They’ll have longer to think about that this offseason, wondering how a successful season ended with such a thud.