Six days to Opening Day 2014 and here we are in 2014 ready to start another season where the Cubs are expected to be mathematically eliminated by June. Ah, for the good ol’ days when the Cubs were great, had the best team in baseball and were the favorites to win it all come October. It’s been so long, right?
Six. It’s been all of six years. That’s it.
2008 might as well of been 1908 it’s been buried so far in our memory. Gather round kids, let me tell you about the greatest Cub team of our generation while we go into our “way back machine” to remember all the way back to 2008.
97 wins. A division title wrapped up before mid-September. It was only a four game lead over the Brewers, but who are we kidding? That thing was over when the Cubs swept the Brew Crew in Milwaukee in late July. Four starting pitchers with double-digit wins. A closer that is an icon in Chicago with 34 saves. When we got our Magic Eight ball out in early October and asked if the Cubs were finally going to win it all it read, “all signs point to yes”.
If the Cubs don’t have bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all. That’s the story of the franchise in a nutshell. The fact the Cubs were so good, so far and above everyone in the National League was terrific. But, did it have to happen in 2008 – exactly 100 years after their last World Series win? Those players heard about that everyday, and once the post-season rolled around you couldn’t blame them for having it be all they could think about – because it was all they were asked about.
A look back at the statistics from that year now and we see the fool’s gold we were all so enamored with at the time. Yes, there were four starting pitchers with double-digit wins. They also had earned run averages over, or very close to, 4.00. Not the stuff of a pennant-winning starting rotation. The offense, as far as batting average went, was lead by Ryan Theriot and his .305 average. No disrespect to Ryan Theriot, but when he is your leading hitter for average – you’ve got problems.
An 84-win Dodger team came to Chicago for the Division Series as the team the Cubs would use as a stepping stone to greatness. Instead, it took all of five innings for us all to realize the season was about to go up in smoke. Game One. Fifth inning. You think the players didn’t tighten up given the year it was and all the history they were chasing down? Ryan Dempster essentially walked the bases loaded.
As I sat in front of a computer watching the pitch-by-pitch update in the library at Oregon State University, I knew the James Loney at-bat was going to be huge. Had to go to class, waited it out to see what happened with the bases loaded. And then my heart sunk. Grand Slam, James Loney.
Game over. Season over. Just like that.
Vin Scully I thought described the scene at Wrigley Field perfectly. He said, “The natives are beginning to get restless.” Poignant and true. I felt it from 2,000 miles away, there’s no doubt the feel that night was one of, “Is this really going to happen again?!” The Dodgers won Game Two in Chicago and Game Three was a mere formality to complete the sweep.
Just like in 2007 the Cubs were swept right out of the playoffs by the surprising Western Divison winner – it had been Arizona in 2007. But, it felt so different. The 2007 team was in last place in early June and won the Central Division almost by default. A playoff win would have been stunning.
2008 was a year when Cub fans were already making World Series plans in July. As crazy as that seems, that’s just how good this team was. We even got to fall in love with the hated Jim Edmonds for half a season.
Yeah, it seems like forever since the Cubs were contending. Since the Cubs were as good as it got in the National League. Since we dreamed of seeing our Cubbies playing in October against a team from the American League.
Next time someone asks you what it’s like to be a Cub fan, tell them this: Being a Cub fan is when six years feels like 106 years. 2008 was everything we want and hope for as Cub fans. And, unfortunately, it was everything we have come to expect as Cub fans, as well.