Do you remember, in maybe third or fourth grade, when you’d be hanging out on the merry-go-round/climbing wall/tire swing at the playground, minding your own business, talking about baseball cards or fishing lures or four square or whatever, and some larger, meatier bullies from the eighth grade would materialize out of nowhere, claim the place for themselves and their Anthrax shirts and shove you and your friends right into the cut-up tire shavings?
That’s about what this NLCS felt like to us Cubs fans, although we felt maybe less like third graders and more like kindergarteners who were like just, “Hey, we’re just trying to drink our chocolate milk here, WHY ARE YOU GUYS BEING SO MEAN?” The Cubs got pulverized, manhandled, sucker-punched, then lifted up by their hair and sucker-punched again. Do you remember the WWF’s old Saturday morning shows, where wrestlers you’d heard of would wail on pathetic jobbers like Steve Lombardi? Yeah. This is a Cubs team that rallied for a glittering second half to win the NL Central — and, may I remind you, mostly the group that won a World Series last year — and they put up a prime-time ride-or-die series that resembled the bulk of my Little League career. I can only imagine, and I know this is silly, that somewhere Kris Bryant’s mom is taking him to Ivanhoe’s for a double chocolate milkshake. (Kris, if you’re reading, seriously it helps.)
Getting drop-kicked out of the NLCS by a shockingly superior Dodgers team hurts, sure, when you’re the defending World Series champions, when you failed to score a single run that didn’t come via homer, when your bullpen devolves into a series of flimsy Flat Stanleys you don’t recognize, when your superstar power duo fails to bring their bats to the game. At one point last night, Javier Baez swung at a Clayton Kershaw pitch that bounced a foot in front of the plate, which is not actually that weird for Javier Baez but still seemed to be a nice little flailing metaphor.
But I went to sleep warm last night, with calm in my heart, unlike previous years going to sleep after Cubs losses, which mostly find you renouncing all faith in human goodness and an equitable universe. The loss was bad, because, you know, losing sucks. But it wasn’t bad in a way that made Cubs fans believe in the omnipotent power of a dark goat-powered demigod. It wasn’t bad in a way that made everyone pick on a guy in the stands for 15 years. It wasn’t bad in a way that conjured up grand tales of twisted fate, of the cruelty of a supposedly all-knowing god, of the abject pain caused by loss foisted upon generation after generation. They just got outplayed by a way better team. That’s it. They got outpitched, outgunned, dear god outhit. There was no magic to it. They lost to people who were better. Baez’s hilarious third strike was dropped by the catcher, who retrieved the ball to go tag Baez at home plant. Baez just stood there and gave him a fist-bump, like, good luck.
We Cubs fans like to dedicate our offseasons to alcoholism and second-guessing, and there’ll be a good pit of analyzing this year. But mostly, we’ll just pick up the pieces and recuperate. Find some pitching, since Jake Arrieta is about to head off to make eleventy billion dollars for some team who will wildly overpay him, and best of luck to you, Seattle. Figure out the bullpen situation, since the Cubs’ bullpen had exactly as many NLCS moments as I do. Figure out whatever the hell Camping World is. Is it like an REI? Is it like a Target for outdoors people? How am I completely unfamiliar with a major sponsor for a baseball postseason? Whoever they are, they’re gonna be mad they only got 5 games out of this nonsense. They’ll probably need to go decompress away from the hustle and noise of big cities, somehow.
But, on the whole, most of the guys will be back. The Cubs will contend next year. They’ll be hungrier, having been embarrassed like this. They’ll be fun to watch. And their season ended in spectacularly normal, regular fashion, because the other guys were tougher. I guess this is how other teams lose. It feels better.