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Theo Epstein: ‘Complacent’ Cubs need to rediscover urgency, edge of 2016 squad

In the final analysis: Boy, did the Cubs get their you-know-whats handed to them.

Or, as pitcher Jon Lester so eloquently put it after Tuesday’s wild-card game loss to the Rockies brought an unsatisfying season to a close, they got their you-know-whats “knocked in the dirt.”

Different you-know-whats, same essential meaning.

In a season-ending meeting with the media on Wednesday at Wrigley Field, Cubs team president Theo Epstein agreed with his veteran ace that the team’s failure to truly thrive in 2018 could be just what the doctor ordered.

Theo Epstein

Theo Epstein met the media Wednesday to discuss a bitter end to the Cubs' season. | Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

“Maybe that’s a good thing in the long run and it’ll lead to the universal recognition that nothing will be given to us,” he said.

But Epstein took it further than Lester, whose overriding message was that the Cubs ought to better appreciate this window of opportunity they have to win big. Epstein took it further than Javy Baez, too, after the shortstop’s fiery declaration that he “doesn’t want to hear about other teams” next season — that if the Cubs focus on themselves, no one will be able to block their path to the mountaintop.

In a nutshell, Epstein called the 2018 Cubs his own dirty word. He called them “complacent.”

But the longer version is much better.

“There was a lot to grind through, and there was a lot to be proud of,” Epstein said. “But we could have done more from Day  1 through 162 as far as complete sense of urgency every day, being completely on mission every day, showing up with that assertiveness and that edge every single day to win.

“Ninety-five wins is tremendous. But sometimes divisions aren’t lost on the last day of the season when you only score one run, [or] they’re not lost in that last week of the season when the [Brewers] went 8-0 and you went 4-3. . . . Sometimes they’re lost early in the season when you have an opportunity to push for that sweep, but you’ve already got two out of three and you’re just not quite there with that killer instinct as a team.”

History will remember the Cubs’ offense choking on its own futility in the wild-card game, not to mention in the division tiebreaker against the Brewers that preceded it.

But what about the June series in Milwaukee when — after having steamrolled to an 8-1 lead in the season series — the Cubs failed to drop the hammer on the Brewers, instead losing back-to-back games to them by shutout? What about the anemic offensive nights in Pittsburgh, and later at home against the Pirates on the season’s final homestand? Epstein mentioned those damaging moments, among others.

“If you just show up playing it cool, knowing you’re talented, knowing it’s a long season and trusting that the talent will manifest over the course of 162, sometimes you come up one game short,” he said. “And that’s not who we are. It’s not who we want to be. It’s not what we’re all about.”

The feeling that “everything will be OK because we’re the Cubs,” as Epstein described it, never existed during the 2016 run to a World Series championship. Among the many things earned by those Cubs, by the way, was the right to be viewed as the standard by which all Cubs teams to come are measured. Spoiler alert: The last two teams haven’t measured up.

“The guys who’ve been here that whole time acknowledge that from Game 1 through 162 we had that sense of urgency, there was no complacency, we were completely on a mission and we showed up to assert ourselves and to win every single day. . . .

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“But we have to own this. We have to be honest [that] it’s been a little different since 2016. We have to get back to that. In 2017 we didn’t show up for the first half of the season, and that put us in a 5½-game hole at the All-Star break, and we had to expend so much energy in the second half to get back on top of the division that we were fried by October and we didn’t accomplish our goal in October. And then this year, I think we all admit, in talking to the players we all know, that we had our chances to put away this division.”

Many Cubs players spoke in the aftermath of the wild-card loss about the rough stretch of the season — 42 games in 43 days — that made 95 victories at the end look plain impressive.

Yeah, well, this boss has made it clear he doesn’t want to hear about it anymore. It didn’t have to be so hard. The end result should have been better. Any other takeaway is just a load of you-know-what.