Rozner: This end only beginning for Cubs
The morning after clinching a playoff berth, Theo Epstein talked of making the most of this opportunity despite the long odds the Cubs had already overcome.
Yes, it was great to arrive ahead of schedule, but once you're in it's important to take advantage because you never know when the next chance may occur.
And when you look at it objectively, the Cubs got all they could have out of this postseason.
The Cubs were swept out of the 2015 postseason by the better team and it ended Wednesday night unceremoniously at Wrigley Field with an 8-3 drubbing, a thorough beating from the Mets to finish the NLCS in the minimum number of required games.
The Mets scored first in every game, scored in the first inning of every game and outscored the Cubs 21-8 for the series -- and it could have been worse.
As the Mets recorded the final out in the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs and their fans were forced to watch the Mets' celebration on a field that has seen so many celebrations this year, during what felt like the rebirth of a franchise.
Several players stayed a few minutes in the dugout, watching the winning team dance toward the World Series, wanting to pocket that wretched feeling for use somewhere down the road.
The fans, so loud for so many months, filed out slowly and quietly into another October night, still waiting for the year that ends in the biggest "W" of all.
It's a cruel finish for the Cubs after a remarkable season, but nevertheless a sweet tease for what the future holds for a very young and talented group.
"I don't know how you can be disappointed in anything our players have done this year," said manager Joe Maddon. "Our players have done nothing but make me proud this year."
Those without any vision -- who can't see past their own cynicism -- will label this season a failure, forgetting they probably picked the Cubs to finish last in 2015.
The same old people will say the same old things about the Cubs not doing enough at the trade deadline, being too cheap to spend money and failing miserably at the management level.
They'll forget the Cubs won 97 games when they were supposed to be -- essentially -- a .500 club.
Of course, these are the same people who have trashed Epstein's plan at every turn, unable to see it coming together.
And now after embracing it for a few weeks, it will be the same story again.
They'll not acknowledge a huge step forward and that every moment the Cubs experienced in the postseason will help them in the future, up to and including their inability to compete in the NLCS.
How bright is the future?
The Cubs have six more years -- at worst -- of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Javier Baez.
Six more years -- and that doesn't even include Jorge Soler, who will be here at least another five.
"I often look out on the field and I look at short, third, and left field," Maddon said. "I'll see KB, Addison, and Schwarber, and I think, 'Wow, to think about the level of experience that these guys have had to this point and where they've gotten us already, that's pretty impressive.'
"You look in right field, you might see Soler out there. You might see Baez at second base. I think we played five rookies in one game this year in Milwaukee. So that's not lost on me by any means.
"This is just the beginning. This is just the beginning for these guys. As our guys learn the game even better … that's going to be really exciting to watch over the next couple of years."
Most of those players just got here. Some of them are already very good. And they don't know a thing yet about how to compete at the big league level.
Imagine how good they'll be in two or three years.
"These guys have done a great job," said veteran starter Jon Lester. "They play well beyond their age and well beyond their years in this game, and that's only going to help us in this organization for years to come."
But they weren't good enough this year and it had nothing to do with curses or ghosts, fouls balls or goats. They simply didn't have the pitching to compete with New York, pitching Epstein had intended to pursue this off-season even before they fell short against the Mets.
They will have to think more in terms of manufacturing runs and better defense in October, balancing that with a desire to play long ball at a time when big bats are increasingly hard to find.
Unlike defeats of the past, however, this is merely the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end.
The Cubs didn't take one shot with backloaded contracts and terrible deals. They didn't mortgage the future or waste their capital by giving up on young players to acquire someone who would help for a single October.
They built a team from scratch, arrived a year early and fell eight victories short of finishing it off.
Not bad for a start.
• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.