Wrigley fans forced to ‘wait until next year’

By Dave Fultz

Explaining away the Cubs’ mighty collapse in this year’s NLDS is a seemingly impossible task.

When my editor told me to have a column ready for the day after the end of the Cubs’ division series, I figured that I’d be writing something a little more optimistic and uplifting.

I mean, they had to win this year, didn’t they?

All the numbers, expert opinion and rational thinking had the Cubs taking home the pennant to compete for their first World Series win in 100 years. Instead they were swept out of the playoffs for the second straight year, by a team that hadn’t won a playoff series in 20 years.

I personally picked the lovable losers to take an NLDS victory from the Dodgers in two separate columns. Normally, I wouldn’t put much weight behind any sort of prediction most sportswriters make, but all of my other picks are looking good as of now with the Red Sox, Rays and Phillies all in the driver’s seat of their division series matchups.

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    In talking to all of my friends who are Cubs fans, it seems almost like they don’t believe it’s over yet. It’s almost like they refuse to believe it’ll have to be ‘wait until next year’ all over again.

    And why shouldn’t they?

    This team was far and away the best in the National League all year, the team that had the best lineup and deepest rotation of any playoff team, and the team to finally end all talk of curses and bad luck on the North Side. But this team could not kill the memories of black cats and billy goats; all it did was cause different, four-letter curses to be shouted by the many who dared to believe next year was here.

    No one will remember the 97-win team as one of any grand success. Instead, it’ll be remembered for bringing a postseason failure back to Wrigleyville.

    See, Chicago is not like Milwaukee or Houston or St. Louis, where fans can hang their hat on a division title or postseason appearance and be happy. No, because of the weight of history there is only one outcome Cubs fans would enjoy.

    And that dream was cut short by just more than nine hours of brutal baseball; there is no other way to explain it. Whether they crumbled under the pressure of a hundred years of broken expectations or they just played three bad games, it doesn’t matter now that the postseason is over yet again for the Cubs.

    All that matters now is there will be a next year and the sting of this epic collapse will most likely have faded enough for the Cubs faithful to get excited by next spring.

    General manager Jim Hendry put together his best team since taking control of the roster, adding key pieces last winter to the strong core he already had in place. And with the best record in the league halfway through the season, Hendry didn’t sit on his hands.

    This winter he’ll need to be active yet again, as the team will be left with a few holes. Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster, in particular, will be two who will get much interest from around the league. The roster does have anchors that will still be around, but fans will not see the same team take the field Opening Day.

    Carlos Zambrano is signed long-term, Harden and Ted Lilly are under contract for next season and after that the Cubs have to make a few decisions. To fill out the rotation, the team could make a bid to re-sign Dempster, stretch out Jeff Samardzija or go looking for help in the free agent market.

    Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and Mark DeRosa are all under contract for next season but there are some question marks. Right field, center field, second base and shortstop are all up in the air at this point because of the unknowns that come with free agency.

    Truly great players like CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, Milton Bradley, Adam Dunn and Derek Lowe would all make huge contributions by the time the team gets to Mesa, Ariz., in March.

    Even with all the uncertainty, there is one thing I know for sure. Despite the playoff collapse and regardless of what happens in the offseason, Wrigley Field will be packed on Opening Day and all will be sure the time has finally come.

    It never hurts to say, ‘Wait until next year,’ right?

    Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].