LOS ANGELES – Are we there yet? That’s the age-old question of anyone – especially youngsters – who want to know whether they’ve arrived at their destination.
The Cubs traveled to Los Angeles after Thursday night’s game turned into Friday morning’s stirring and sometimes silly 9-8 victory over the Washington Nationals in the deciding fifth game of the National League Division Series.
Yes, the Cubs finally arrived in L.A. on Friday afternoon after an unexpected delay in Albuquerque. But have they finally “arrived” in the sense of being a baseball power to be reckoned with?
When Theo Epstein took over as Cubs president six years ago, he and general manager Jed Hoyer talked of “building a foundation for sustained success.” During the losing seasons from 2012 to 2014, that phrase often was met with a roll of the eyes.
As we get ready for Saturday night’s Game 1 of the NLCS between the Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers, let’s ask a few questions pertaining to these Cubs.
1. Is it time to declare sustained success?
Before the second game of the NLDS in Washington, I stopped Epstein in the dugout and put the question directly to him. He wasn’t quite ready to go there yet.
“I think we want a little bit more before we do that,” he said. “We’ve laid a good foundation for the foundation.”
Fair enough. But a week later, the Cubs are embarking on their third straight trip to the NLCS. They were swept by the Mets in 2015 but beat the Dodgers last year on the way to a World Series title.
Now that the Cubs are back again, maybe we need something to loosen the conversation, something like, say, champagne.
Not to go behind the boss’ back or anything, I put the question to Hoyer in the victorious visitors’ clubhouse in the wee hours of Friday morning.
“I don’t want to declare it, but I will say I think three straight NLCS is a really impressive thing,” Hoyer said. “We made the final four three years in a row. I think think that’s an impressive organizational accomplishment. Last year, we had the parade, and obviously that’s our goal.
“I don’t get all excited talking about three straight NLCS, but I do think it’s something that we should be really proud of as an organization. It’s hard to do. Not many people do it. And we did it. It’s great.”
I’m leaning toward a “yes” on the answer to that question.
2. The Cubs had to empty their physical and emotional tanks to win the NLDS in five games. What’s left, and how do the Cubs tap it?
“We’re going to have to get our rest,” said Ben Zobrist, the MVP of last year’s World Series and a contributor off the bench Thursday night, going 1 for 2 with a walk and two runs. “But I think in the end, we’ll regroup.
“We know how to play the game. We know how to bounce back. We’ve bounced back a lot before. The other thing is we have a lot of guys still hungry to do things in the playoffs. We have some guys who didn’t have a great series this first series. We have some guys who didn’t play a couple games that maybe would like to be in there, too. When you have guys that are still hungry, you really look forward to every game that’s coming at you.”
3. So where does that fuel, that drive, come from with this group?
“It’s the right mix of people,” said right fielder Jason Heyward. “Ownership, the Ricketts family. We’ve got an unbelievable fan base that looks for anything positive in any second of every game. We’ve got Theo and Jed, who have been around, [in]the front office. These guys have seen what it looks like to win and overcome adversity. Our clubhouse. The [Jon] Lesters, the [John] Lackeys, this group here has kind of been together – the nucleus, the core.
“You look everywhere and you see that kind of experience. We’ve kind of been forced to grow up and grow into these moments and handle it the best way we can.”
• Bruce Miles is a Daily Herald sports reporter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BruceMiles2112.