Cardinals Beware: Getting Crushed In NLCS Will Only Make the Cubs Hungrier

The Cubs were no match for the Dodgers in the NLCS, an event that lasted only five games, with LA outscoring the defending World Series champs 28-8 in an abrupt termination.

And if you thought this would be a humbling experience for the Cubs, well … evidently not.

“We’re in the process of being a dynasty, man,’’ Cubs outfielder Albert Amora Jr. told reporters covering the NLCS. ‘‘It’s pretty simple: We’re here to win a lot of championships.”

Earlier in the series, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein calmly offered his assessment that the team was built to win multiple championships.

With 92 regular-season victories, and a hard fall  in the NLCS, the Cubs weren’t as formidable as last year’s 103-win titan that disposed of challengers and imaginary curses in seizing the franchise’s first World Series triumph since 1908.

But this does not mean the Cubs are in decline. After all, over the last three seasons the Cubs have won the most regular-season games, and postseason games, in the majors. And they advanced to the NLCS in each of the three seasons.

You know … the kind of stuff that the Cardinals used to do.

But there was a transfer of power when the Cubs flung the Cardinals out of the way in the 2015 NLDS — and beatdown that set off a slide that included the failure to make the playoffs in two consecutive seasons. The Cardinals’ win total, after cresting at 100 in 2015, dropped 86 in 2016, and to 83 this season.

Over the last three seasons, the Cubs have competed in 36 postseason games — and won more of them, 19, than any major-league team. Over the last three seasons the Cardinals’ playoff participation was limited to that ugly four-game NLDS vs. Chicago,  with only one win.

If Cardinals fans are deriving joy from the Cubs’ meek submission to the Dodgers on Thursday night, that’s understandable. Enjoy. But there is a flip side to the failure: the Chicago organization will be be determined to fill weaknesses, strengthen the roster and reascend to the top in 2018.

“Heads up,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Game 5. “We’re going to keep getting better.”

Compared to last year’s crazy offseason and a championship celebration that lasted deep into the winter, the Cubs won’t be party animals this time. They’ll a normal offseason and plenty of rest. And I’m assuming the Cardinals’ fiercest rival will be hungrier than ever.

This sets up fascinating offseason.

If the Cardinals or their faithful think the Cubs’ talent or resolve will be softened by the flogging in the NLCS … that’s delusional.

If anyone thinks Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer will be content to make a nominal upgrade to their pitching staff by sprucing up the bullpen a little, and maybe finding a cost-efficient starter, just OK sort of starter … that’s delusional.

Believing that the Cubs will back off instead of aggressively flexing their substantial financial strength to reclaim baseball’s throne … that’s delusional.

Cardinals baseball president John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch have put a middle-lineup bat at the top of their offseason wish list. And the St. Louis bullpen needs a dramatic makeover.

With John Lackey expected to retire and Jake Arrieta likely to depart as a free agent, the Cubs’ rotation requires one or two new starters for 2018. And after enduring bullpen problems for much of 2017 — including the horrendous postseason meltdown — the Cubs will be hunting for relievers.

A common need — major bullpen help — sets up one potential competition between the Chicago and St. Louis front offices. If both teams are targeting relief pitchers, then we’ll have a chance to watch and compare and see who comes out ahead.

The Cubs are highly motivated to fix the bullpen. Epstein couldn’t be more adamant about that as he spoke to reporters before and after Game 5.

“That’s the one thing that showed up in the postseason that also was present in the regular season,” Epstein said. “We were 30th out of 30 (teams) in walk rate out of the bullpen this year and almost across the board, eight of our 10 most-used relievers walked more guys than they typically do this year.

“Across the board we were walking more guys. It’s something we’ve got to take responsibility for and try to nudge it in a better direction this winter. We were 26th out of 30 last year. We just have to throw more strikes out of the ’pen, no way around it.

“So we have to find a way to address that going forward, and we will. Some of it is obviously personnel based, and it will be important for us to bring in some reliable strike throwers going forward out of the pen … I think the fact that it’s been two years in a row where we haven’t really thrown strikes and that most of our relievers have taken a step back with their strike throwing, that falls on me. We got to find a way to fix it through personnel and also looking at our approach.”

When the Cubs have a major need, they do something about it if at all possible. They usually don’t fool around. They get after it. They often go big.

If you’re a Cubs fan, you can have confidence in Epstein to do whatever it takes to reinforce the roster and elevate next year’s win total back to the 100 level.

In St. Louis, we  hope  that the Cardinals will make meaningful moves … we  hope  that they will have an active offseason, with trades and signings … we  hope   that the Cardinals, after two consecutive down years, will be more ambitious and daring than usual.

That’s the difference between the Cardinals and the Cubs right now.

It’s the difference between contemplating action, and taking action.

It’s the difference between hoping that something will get done, and  knowing  that it will.

You might even say it’s the difference between first place and third place.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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