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Elimination ‘hurts,’ but Cubs expect to return for another shot in ’18

Center fielder Albert Almora Jr. watched from the dugout as Cubs teammate Willson Contreras lined to short to finish the Cubs’ 11-1 loss Thursday to the Dodgers that ended their season in the National League Championship Series.

As the Dodgers rushed to the center of the Wrigley Field diamond to celebrate their first NL championship since 1988, veteran outfielder Jon Jay leaned over to Almora with a simple message, if not a hard lesson in the moment.

‘‘He said, ‘Look at the expressions on their faces, celebrating on your field,’ ’’Almora said. ‘‘It’s one that’s going to sink in a little bit [during the winter], and I’ll learn from it. And I think we’ll be ready to go next year.”

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Albert Almora Jr. reacts in the ninth inning of the Cubs' elimination loss to the Dodgers Thursday.

Not quite a year after the magic carpet ride more than a century in the making ended with a World Series trophy and a parade down the Magnificent Mile, ‘‘Wait till next year’’ returned to Wrigley.

‘‘It hurts,’’ Almora said.

Maybe even a little more than countless past seasons that ended short of the goal.

Maybe because the goals and expectations are so much higher for this core put together by this Theo Epstein front office.

‘‘We’ll be in position next year to make a postseason run,’’ said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose 1-for-17 series was emblematic of the Cubs’ struggles against Dodgers pitching. ‘‘But it’s not going to come easy, and it’s something you can’t take for granted.’’

The Dodgers head home to await the Astros-Yankees winner in the World Series opener Tuesday. The Yankees lead the American League Championship Series 3-2.

The Cubs proceed to an offseason that promises a search for pitching but still carries big expectations toward 2018.

 

Dodgers rush to the middle of the diamond to celebrate.

‘‘We’re in the process of being a dynasty, man,’’ said Almora, Epstein’s first draft pick as Cubs president and a player who should be in an every-day position to say something about that next season. ‘‘It’s pretty simple: We’re here to win a lot of championships.’’

The Cubs have built those kinds of expectations with a six-year restructuring that has resulted in three consecutive trips to the postseason for the first time in more than a century. The Cubs have made three consecutive appearances in the NLCS and won the World Series last season.

‘‘I am not displeased,’’ said manager Joe Maddon, whose team has played more playoff games (36) and won more (19) than any team in the last three seasons. ‘‘I think we did OK this year, based on the way we started to where we [finished]. Three trips to this neck of the woods, it doesn’t happen often.’’

Coming off a short and celebrated offseason, the Cubs struggled in the first half, trailed the Brewers in the NL Central by 5½ games at the All-Star break with a 43-45 record, then surged to the best record in the league in the second half.

For whatever blemishes critics mention, Epstein said: ‘‘We’ve been a really successful postseason club. Some of the slings and arrows at different guys — whether it’s Joe or our offense or our bullpen — the sum is pretty good.’’

 

Yasiel Puig celebrates in clubhouse

Fatigue commonly was blamed as a factor in the Cubs’ choppy season. But given the returning core, maybe a few lessons from this season and perhaps even the sting of champagne in the Dodgers’ eyes at Wrigley, the Cubs will expect big things when they reconvene for their next game that counts.

‘‘This reminds me a lot of two years ago against the Mets,’’ said third baseman Kris Bryant, who homered in the fourth inning for the Cubs’ only run. ‘‘We got beat really good, and then the next year we won the World Series. Maybe sometimes you need to get beat a little bit, so you’re not complacent.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com