‘End the Cubs’? That could take more than a single NLCS elimination

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Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and team president Theo Epstein before Game 3 of the NLDS last week.

Spotted in the Dodgers’ clubhouse as the National League Championship Series opened Saturday: a motivational message, scrawled on a grease board, about seizing opportunities. It was aimed specifically at the team that knocked the Dodgers out of the postseason last year:

“Be [expletive] great today! End the Cubs!”

It obviously says a lot about where the Cubs have ascended in three short years since the franchise’s Tankozoic Era. Five, 10 or even 50 years ago, an opponent giving the Cubs that much credit in a postseason setting would have been laughable.

So forget for a moment that the defending World Series champions haven’t hit this postseason, have sizeable bullpen problems and now trail the Dodgers 2-0 in the best-of-seven NLCS heading into Game 3 on Tuesday night.

Instead, remember for a moment the term “defending World Series champions.” And consider that the Cubs are in a third consecutive NLCS and have played more postseason games in three years (33) than they did in their previous 69 combined (31).

Whatever happens with the Cubs the rest of this series, or potentially the next round, the era of sustainability — team president Theo Epstein’s long-revered mantra of “sustained success” — has taken root on the North Side. At least, it would seem, for the handful of years of club control left for Game 3 starter Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Carl Edwards Jr., et al.

The angst and expectations swirling on Twitter the last few days suggest that much.

“It’s certainly what we set out to do,” Epstein said. “But we don’t feel like the goal’s been accomplished. We want to push forward and do more.”

The Cubs certainly aren’t counting themselves out despite the enormous odds they face against the loaded Dodgers and the enormity of a must-win game Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

“We have a lot of confidence,” Edwards said. “We’ll be back in Chicago. Our fans will be there. They’ll be loud, and we’ll have a lot of support, and before you know it, this series will be tied.”

Obviously, Yu Darvish, Justin Turner and the impenetrable Dodgers bullpen might have something to say about that.

But either way, the Cubs have reason to believe they’ll come back — whether in this series or for a run at an unprecedented fourth postseason appearance next year.

“You take a step back, it’s really a credit to ownership for having the patience to let us put the foundation in place,” Epstein said. “And then the whole organization for doing the work, and then the players for seemingly always coming through when it matters most. It’s a total team effort. But all it does is create opportunity for us to try to win championships, and that’s what we’re really here for.”

So they stay narrowly focused on now. On Game 3. On the fitness and availability of Wade Davis’ right arm. On the fitness and ability of a young lineup, which needs to remember how to hit. On getting enough out of Hendricks on Tuesday and Jake Arrieta on Wednesday to make Davis and his bullpen mates relevant.

But they also know that “ending the Cubs” might take more than eliminating them in 2017.

“It’s nice to make three straight NLCS’s,” said Epstein, whose Red Sox didn’t match that feat in the American League during his nine years as general manager in Boston. “And it’s nice to try to get in a position to get in every year.

“But those are a means to an end of winning championships.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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