Rozner: Cubs arrive a year ahead of schedule

  • Cubs players celebrate clinching a postseason berth after Saturday's 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

    Cubs players celebrate clinching a postseason berth after Saturday's 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/26/2015 4:51 PM

For those who couldn't fathom the Cubs' strategy, believing Theo Epstein a con man or simply a failure, this has got to be downright confounding.

Wait for it now … the Cubs have plowed through a five-year plan in four years.

 

After clinching a playoff berth a tick before midnight Friday, the Cubs are now in a position to win the World Series.

And that -- for the hard of reading -- was the plan.

Rebuild from the bottom up, stockpile young players and cash and then compete for a World Series every year. They hoped to accomplish that in five years. They have done it in four.

"It's an unusually-skilled group of young players," said manager Joe Maddon. "To have this number of young guys playing in games of consequence and producing is unprecedented. To be at this point right now is pretty amazing."

At the risk of confusing the already bewildered, in this case four is better than five.

It is, of course, a guarantee of precisely nothing. There is no promise of a World Series. But the idea was to be in a position to compete for a playoff spot every season, which gives the Cubs opportunities to make the tournament and potentially win the big prize.

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Not one shot at a title. Not one-and-done. Not spending wildly or trading prospects for a single chance. Not suffering for years because of going all in, backloading contracts and giving away the future.

Those strategies have been failing for more than a century. This one will give the Cubs multiple looks at a World Series title in the next 10 years and that improves their odds.

Not all that complicated.

Maybe for some, but that didn't stop the Cubs Saturday morning from enjoying their first playoff berth since 2008 with the hope that they can win their first postseason game since Oct. 11, 2003. That was Game 4 against the Marlins, a mere 4,369 days ago.

Players and coaches wandered in late for a noon start Saturday, not having had a chance to celebrate, but the team stood on the field before Saturday's game and watched a video tribute to the surprising season, and then a full house stood as one to salute the Cubs for having one of the best records in baseball.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It would have been impossible to expect this group of young players to do this," GM Jed Hoyer said Saturday morning. "If we exceeded expectations, that's great.

"I understand the narrative that it's one year early, but Joe believed we could reach the postseason this year and he was right. Joe was the perfect manager for this group and it's hard to imagine this success with four rookies -- sometimes five -- in the lineup, without Joe at the helm."

Maddon was watching "Jersey Boys" until the ninth inning Friday night, when he finally tuned in to see the Giants lose to Oakland. He received a few texts from friends and went to bed.

Hoyer said he and his fellow Cubs execs texted each other, several mentioning that November 2011 -- when they were hired -- seemed like a long time ago.

"There's been a lot of roster decisions since then," Hoyer said, "and a lot of people were a part of making those decisions."

So there was no party Friday night and Saturday's early start meant getting back to business quickly.

"These young guys are humble and it's why we've been able to do this," Maddon said. "Our guys are mature enough and understand exactly what's going on.

"Our goal is to catch the Pirates still and bring that home game back here for us and for our fans. If we're fortunate enough to do that, trust me, we'll handle it properly."

That's unlikely after another loss to Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field Saturday in which Jason Hammel struggled again, and that made for an unusual clubhouse and on-field celebration following the defeat, some 15 hours after the Cubs had clinched.

"Our guys deserve this," said a soaked Cubs president Theo Epstein. "It's not always after the last game that it happens.

"Besides, it would be out of personality for our guys not to celebrate. Let them do whatever they want -- within the law."

Jon Lester has been a part of 12 such drenchings, including two World Series parties, and he said the young players needed the chance to let loose, regardless of Saturday's outcome.

"It's always fun, no matter when you do it," Lester said with a smile. "It's really hard to win in this game."

Players danced and sang and sprayed one another with champagne, punctuating a stunning run to the postseason, even though the Cubs have known for a month that they'd be in the playoffs.

The question has been, and remains, where will they play the wild-card game and against which team?

The Pirates think they can still catch St. Louis, and the way it's going right now for all three teams, that might not be such a bad thing for the Cubs.

brozner@dailyherald.com

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