Not the Cubs' year -- but soon, it might be

Kirk Wessler

Did someone predict this would be The Year of the Cub?

Why, yes. Someone did. Some guy with a brain cramp. Or a foolish tongue. Or whose fingers committed felony typo.

That’s it!

I should have called this The Year of the Flub.

Sorry, that was mean. And I am finding it increasingly difficult to be mean to people who are on the brink of 100 years — that’s right, count ’em like bottles of beer falling off the walls of every Irish pub in Wrigleyville: one-freaking-hundred years — of playing and hoping and cheering for something that never happens.

It would be easy — oh, so pre-school easy — to ridicule Aramis Ramirez for flailing at balls three feet wide of the strike zone. Simple — so Dick-and-Jane simple — to rip on Rich Hill for bunting miserably with two men on base and one out. And elementary — so one-plus-one-equals-two elementary — to call Alfonso Soriano the Invisible Man, or even $136 million of choke.

It’s easy to boo, too.

But easy isn’t right here. Easy misses the point.

Yes, Chicago lost 5-1 Saturday night to the Arizona Diamondbacks and became the first team eliminated from the 2007 playoffs. But what are we to make of that?

Some will say the Cubs simply weren’t a particularly good team. They will not be wrong. But neither were the Diamondbacks this season particularly good. They were simply good enough to win the National League West, and then good enough to beat the Cubs, who had been good enough to win the NL Central.

Fact is, the St. Louis Cardinals of 2006 weren’t very good at all. Until October. Then they were very, very good enough to win the World Series.

This stuff happens.

The Cubs did not hit very well in this series. They didn’t take advantage of the gifts Arizona pitcher Livan Hernandez wrapped for them Saturday: five walks and a hit batsman. They didn’t capitalize on the error committed by the D-backs’ otherwise-spectacular shortstop, Stephen Drew, who by the way was everything but spectacular for most of the season.

But maybe that’s because Arizona’s pitchers rose to the occasion. Or maybe that’s because Arizona’s defense Saturday night turned four double plays. Maybe a lot of things happened that had nothing to do with anything other than one team just played better than the other.

Look, the disappointment is understandable.

"But you know," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said, "no matter how far you go up the ladder in baseball, (if) you don’t win a World Series you’re going to find disappointment somewhere along the way."

If you’re a Cubs fan, you know all about disappointment. You also know playoff opportunities haven’t come around very often in your lifetime, so it sure would be nice if they lasted longer than a nap. Now, you’re probably wondering how long you’ll have to wait before the Cubs get even this far again.

Not very long, I’d say.

First, there’s the little, overlooked fact that this was the Cubs’ third postseason appearance in the past 10 years. That doubled the postseason resume they had compiled in the previous 53 years. I think that’s called progress.

Then there’s the commitment to spending money to get good players. That’s a good thing, as long as they’re the right players.

Mostly, though, there’s Piniella’s understanding this shouldn’t be a one-time shot. The best way to win a championship is to give yourself a real chance every season. It’s a process.

"This is just the start, fellas," Piniella said. "We’re going to get better."

I believe him. It’s as true as his assessment of the Cubs’ loss in this series.

"Our team tried," he said. "We just didn’t get it done. And that’s really the end of the story."

Or maybe it’s just the beginning.

KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3216 or e-mail to kwessler@pjstar.com.