CLEVELAND – The day before this nearly four-week, four-city odyssey began, presumptive National League MVP Kris Bryant stood in front of his locker at Wrigley Field, scanned the Cubs’ clubhouse and saw the big picture.
“If you just look at what we have here, over the next, I don’t know, five or six years,” he said, “we hope to be making runs like this all the time.”
The Cubs then won 11 postseason games over the next 27 days to beat the Giants, Dodgers and Indians for the most heralded, longest anticipated championship in American Sports.
What comes next? Can they do it again?
Maybe. But the larger point is that Bryant’s point might be the most profound as the Cubs’ first title in 108 years sinks into the Chicago psyche.
“For all the young guys to get their first taste of the World Series and to perform as well as they did in this moment, I’ve got to believe their confidence is just sky high,” said World Series MVP Ben Zobrist – the 35-year-old veteran who just pocketed his second title in as many seasons.
“It’s going to be more than ever next year,” he added. “And I look for even better things from this team next year.”
Better than this?
Because of retirement and free agency alone, five from the Cubs’ 25-man World Series roster could be making their last team appearance at Friday’s parade: David Ross, Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler, Chris Coghlan and Travis Wood. Jason Hammel, a 16-game winner during the season, also is in limbo.
But with good health, who’s going to stop this team from returning to the playoffs – maybe even the World Series – with its full World Series rotation and entire young and improving infield back, with Willson Contreras taking over the primary catching duties, slugger Kyle Schwarber back at full strength after missing 6½ months and with Albert Almora Jr. poised to break into a starting role as a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder?
“With hard work and determination – this is not a script; this is me talking from the heart – the sky is the limit for us,” Almora said. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say once we get to spring training, it’s turn the page, and we’re going to try to win it again.”
The Cubs, naturally, are the consensus pick to win the 2017 title, ranging anywhere from 3-1 to 6-1 favorites in odds released Thursday.
General manager Jed Hoyer takes nothing for granted when it comes to the relative crapshoot that a three-round postseason often becomes.
“You never know what’s going to happen going forward,” he said.
The Indians, for example, have as much reason to believe they’ll be back in the World Series as the Cubs, considering their core players all return, along with the returns from injuries of frontline starter Carlos Carrasco and All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley (who missed all but 11 games because of a shoulder injury).
“Listen, I love our core,” Hoyer said. “I love this group of guys. I think we’re going to compete for a long time. But it’s really hard to get to this point, and I think the minute you stop recognizing that, you’re in a lot of trouble. And our guys never did.”
That’s the thing about this team that transcended the talent. Players across the clubhouse seemed to share a genuine bond, certainly a genuine and deep sense of shared purpose.
And if the coalition-building losses of, in particular, Ross and Fowler, can be covered in the clubhouse, the results on the field aren’t likely to suffer, barring injuries or unforeseen pitching breakdowns.
“Now that we’ve won, I think we’re going to have more opportunities,” Hoyer said.
It might be worth noting that the franchise’s teams of the early 20th century earned the “Cubs” nickname in 1903 because of all the young talented players it had. By 1906, that core drove a five-year run that included four World Series appearances, two championships and regular-season win totals of 116, 107, 99, 104 and 104.
It’s a different baseball universe, a more grueling regular-season path and an exceptionally more difficult postseason process since then.
But after Wednesday night? Try telling these guys Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers had anything on this team’s ability to keep this up.
“It’s over now,” Bryant said Wednesday night, the champagne still dripping from his head. “Now we’ve got to try to do it again.”