The End Part II: For Real This Time

World Series Game 7 ended with an innocent ground ball hit into the teeth of the shift that rolled into the waiting glove of Jose Altuve, who made an easy throw to first to complete a dream season.

The Houston Astros, who were born into Major League Baseball in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45’s, won the franchise’s first World Series by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 on Wednesday, November 1, 2017.

It’s been a journey for the Astros, who lost 100+ games in three straight years from 2011 to 2013, and were bad enough to draw a 0.0 television rating in 2014 – a year in which they lost 92 games. From the ashes of a perennial loser, a champion was built. Like the narrative-slaying champions who preceded them in 2016, the 2017 title-winning Astros reaped the benefits of tanking and built a team of young, cost-controlled, and talented players and mixed it with hungry, grizzled veterans. Houston’s front office was ridiculed by fans desperate for competitiveness, shredded by media decrying their strategy, and hacked by disgruntled former co-workers in a storyline that would have been rejected by any Hollywood writer.

Good for the Astros for pulling through. Job well done in an arena where success comes with a 70 percent failure rate.

But what now?

By virtue of their 2016 World Series title, the Chicago Cubs currently have the shortest championship drought in baseball. But with three titles in 110 years, everyone knows the team has work to do to reach the mountaintop again.

President Theo Epstein’s job to re-open the Cubs’ championship window won’t be easy.

Chicago will likely see Jake Arrieta (free agency) and John Lackey (retirement) walk away. In Arrieta, they’ll lose the franchise’s best big-game pitcher. Lackey’s departure means the team will be without an edgy gamer who teammates loved and fans loved to hate. The two combined to make 121 starts and pitch 724.1 innings over the last two years. Yeah, the task is daunting. But it’s not the only one.

The Cubs need to rebuild a bullpen that faltered in October, and might be doing so without closer Wade Davis – who hits free agency with Arrieta and Lackey. Despite Epstein’s long-time reluctance to pay closers with hefty long-term deals on the open market, Davis is the free agent pitcher most likely to return. To put it in perspective, Epstein hasn’t handed a big-money, multi-year deal to a closer since Keith Foulke in December 2003 when he was the Boston Red Sox’s GM.

Epstein spoke glowingly of the Foulke signing, and also possibly gave us a clue regarding how he feels about the closer position:

“Going without a proven closer (in 2003) … was a result of not having that guy out there,” Epstein said. “We acquired Keith
Foulke because we think he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. It’s certainly better to have one of those than not to have one of those.”

To be clear, having a good closer doesn’t mean your bullpen is good. Since the Cubs aren’t the only team in search of relief help, patching things together will be challenging. And after a historically awful time at the plate, one could argue the Cubs could use a bat. But I’m rambling, tired, and could use a good night’s sleep.

By the time the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs in 2015, their holes were glaring. The team signed Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Lackey, and re-signed Dexter Fowler with the idea of adding on-base and contact skills, elite defense, and an innings-eating arm. Each player contributed to a World Series title in 2016, making each worth the small fortune the Cubs paid in acquisition costs.

While I don’t believe they’ll spend wildly this offseason, I think this front office won’t go into 2018 not having addressed their very evident issues. The argument behind somewhat fiscally conservative this offseason lies in the free agency class of 2018-19 that looms. Keeping the kind of financial flexibility to sign a player of Bryce Harper’s magnitude should be a top priority for a franchise that doesn’t have the big-money TV deal they need in order to spend dollar-for-dollar with the Dodgers just yet.

Of course, we this offseason and an entire baseball season to be played before we get there. But how do we get through the offseason?

Seriously. Baseball season is over. For real this time.

Because of the World Baseball Classic, we had meaningful games from March until the start of November. There was more good than bad, as home runs and hard-throwers captivated fans. I guess this is where life gets interesting.

Thanksgiving is around the corner and Christmas will be here before you know it. Is it too soon to start planning out New Year’s Eve? Ha. Asks the guy who already has rough sketches regarding trips to Cleveland, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Las Vegas for baseball-related happenings in 2018. I’m not really looking forward to the holidays for obvious reasons. To be honest, I’m more geeked about the Star Wars trailer that premiered during Game 7:

Seriously. I jumped off my couch and started yelling “Star Wars trailer! Star Wars trailer! Star Wars Trailer!” as I tweeted something similar.

Now that it’s is over, I suppose I can return to normal-ish sleep and life schedules. I’ve been living in a baseball-first world for the better part of a month. I wonder if the people I love still love me after a month-long absence. I guess we’ll find out.


The End

The Chicago Cubs time as defending World Series champions ended in late October, going out with a whimper on a night when Jose Quintana (or anyone else wearing a Cubs uniform that night) didn’t have it as the Los Angeles Dodgers won their first pennant since 1988. However, the Cubs’ reign as World Series lasted a few weeks longer – though it ends tonight.

Sadly, the Cubs’ time as World Series champs will be up at some point tonight … or tomorrow morning, depending on whose bats heat up during the Game 7 showdown between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros. Either team would make a worthy champion, and both will have targets squarely placed on their backs in 2018. To the victors go the spoils, as well as the World Series hangover. Have fun with all that.

I spent much of my day pondering this question:

The easy answer is “all of it.”

It’s hard not to consider that whole week to be the best ever. World Series Game 5 was the greatest game I’ve ever seen, replacing the 2015 NL Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh atop my personal list. I watched World Series Game 6 on a small TV at my cubicle at Tribune Tower while working my shift, hoping it wasn’t the last game I’d watch in 2016. I took in Game 7 with my friends who are pretty much my baseball family.

I celebrated at various points in the night with different people. I had drinks at Toons bar in Wrigleyville/Lakeview with a friend who was an Indians fan. I’ll still never understand why he was so gracious in defeat. I’ll just chalk it up to quality friendships and leave it at that. I attempted to bar-hop late into the night and walked around the neighborhood to get a feel for the moment. I would later catch up with another friend and we’d have breakfast at a greasy spoon diner. I ended my night at home at 4 am, where my mother was still awake watching highlights on MLB Network. We sat, watched highlights, and tried to put into words what we had witnessed the night before.

I went to the Grant Park Rally, because my parents never let me go to any of the six the Bulls hosted in the 1990s.

That week, I spent hundreds of dollars on World Series gear for myself and family. And I’d do it again, too. I watched coverage on the news the morning with my grandmother and gave her a World Series shirt. She was so happy. We did the thing where we wrote on the sidewalk and walls with chalk at Wrigley, which had basically turned into Mecca for Cubs fans who came far and wide just to be there after the title. It was weird, but I totally understood.

I guess this is all a long way of saying the best part of the experience was the numerous little things that made it up along the way.

A year later, I’m in a similar place mentally as I was during the Cubs’ playoff run as I find myself telling myself to enjoy the wins to their fullest, don’t be bogged down by the losses, and enjoy the ride because you never know when it’ll end.

This particular ride is over. We’ll take some time to press the reset button and watch a winter of transaction crawl across our Twitter feeds. Some time in March, the ride resumes. But first, World Series Game 7. Let’s go.