What an absolutely horrendous way to end the baseball season for the Chicago Cubs; Soriano, Lee and Ramirez went a combined 6 of 38 in the playoffs. Wow, 6 of 38. Talks of managerial decisions and discipline at the plate will dominate this off-season. As painful as it is was to watch the Diamondbacks sweep the Chicago Cubs, there is a silver lining to this 100 year old dark cloud.
Understanding growth, development, and the big picture can be tough in a world of instant gratification. The Chicago Cubs franchise is not a one-hit wonder. It is almost impossible for a team of the Cubs’ stature to make the postseason one out of every five years, and hope to turn one of those years into a World Championship team. Look at the last few one-hit wonders of this generation, the teams that showed up in the playoffs, put together a great run and magically won the whole thing: Diamondbacks 2001, Angels 2002, White Sox 2005, Marlins 1997 and 2003, . What is the one common component of these organizations? None of them were carrying the weight of an entire city, one of the largest fan bases in the country and a curse on their backs. Every one of those teams could just play baseball. There weren’t swirling expectations or the lingering taste of a “cursed” organization.
The Chicago Cubs are not afforded such a luxury. With every passing year comes a greater expectation, a greater desire and a growing anticipation of a World Series. Compound this by ten in a year when the team actually stands a chance of making the playoffs and contending for a ring. Any year the Cubs make the playoffs they take a 25 man roster, a coaching staff, and now 100 years of agony, 100 years of loyal fans begging for just one.
No player is immune to that pressure, to the stress that comes with the chance to be the one that brings it home. The stress can make you timid or overanxious at the plate or cause you to hold on too tightly to your curve ball. Only three baseball organizations live in that pressure year in and year out: The Yankees, Cubs and Red Sox. Despite recent history, the Yankees know how to win. They are an organization full of winners or World Championships (26). Their fan base knows not the agony of decades without a championship. The Cubs and Red Sox know. Players know the pressure of carrying years of defeat into every post season. The Red Sox, however, relieved their city in 2004 and they did it the only way they could, and with a blueprint the Cubs must follow.
Look at the blueprint of the Boston Red Sox. Very much in the same boat as Cubs nation, there was no overnight success or a one year magical run. Yes watching them win in 2004 was magical, but how many years of playoff let down previewed that one magical year. How about the agony as Red Sox fans watched Aaron (F’ing) Boone hit the game-winner in the bottom of the 10th in 2003? The Red Sox blueprint must be the same formula the new Cubs owner and their front office take. Thankfully for them some of the pieces are in place.
Take a core group of guys you know you can win with (Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, etc.) and add a good pitching staff with one, or preferably two aces (Zambrano, ???) and the biggest piece of the puzzle, make playoff baseball a norm. The Chicago Cubs must make playoff baseball an every year thing for the organization. Year in and year out, the Cubs need to be in the playoffs. In a watered down NL Central that should not be too difficult.
The Chicago faithful must get used to seeing the Cubs in postseason play. So used to it that “I Believe” and “This is Our Year” signs fade away. Only a World Championship will “lift the curse” and allow Cubs fans to breathe a sigh of relief and exalt in joyous victory. However, if playoff baseball becomes an every year thing on the Northside of Chicago then players become accustomed to the pressure.
Only Aramis Ramirez, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano saw both the 2003 and the 2007 postseasons with the Chicago Cubs. Playing in October for the Cubs is completely different than playing anywhere else. The core group is set, and there is a chance to add key components this winner. The 2007 season should not go down as the year that the Cubs got swept, but the year that everything started coming together.