Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. was stone-faced and sternly focused on one thing before Wednesday’s playoff game:
Clearly, he sought more October baseball this time around as the Cubs took the field trailing the Dodgers three games to none in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
But Almora, 23, also has his eye on much more coming behind this third consecutive Cubs run through the NLCS.
“We’re in the process of being a dynasty, man,” Almora said. “It’s pretty simple. We’re here to win a lot of championships.”
The stuff of delusional thinking even five or 10 years ago, this is starting to become the new normal in Cubs thinking these days.
Forget backing up that historic 2016 championship with another one this year.
But that doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t have a shot at a fourth consecutive playoff run next year – unprecedented in franchise history.
Almora, a productive platoon player in his first full season in the majors this year, should have a sizeable say in backing up his dynasty talk as he figures to move into a more regular playing role next season.
They won’t have Jake Arrieta — the former Cy Young Award winner who delivered a 6 2/3-inning parting shot Wednesday in what likely was his final start as a Cub before becoming a free agent.
Arrieta gave up just three hits and struck out nine to hand a 3-1 lead to the bullpen — leaving the mound to a standing ovation.
But if Theo Epstein’s front office can land another competitive starting pitcher and fix the leaks in his bullpen this winter, you needed to only look at Game 4 on Wednesday to see the reasons why Almora and others in the organization feel so strongly about next October – and the one after that.
Second baseman Javy Baez, another young Cub growing into a bigger everyday role next season, came back from a 0-for-20 start to his postseason with two home runs off left-hander Alex Wood Wednesday night – becoming only the fifth Cub in history to homer twice in a postseason game.
The others: Gary Matthews in 1984 and Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez and Eric Karros all in 2003.
Then there was catcher Willson Contreras, another Cub in his first full season in the big leagues, who hit the longest postseason home run in at least three years to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead with one out in the second.
Since Statcast began tracking home run distances in 2015, none in the postseason had been measured longer than Contreras’ 491-foot drive off the left-field video board – a mammoth shot so no-doubt-about-it that Contreras took a well-earned 15 second to admire it.
Even before taking the field for Game 4 Wednesday, manager Joe Maddon took a moment to reflect on what the Cubs have accomplished – a major-league-leading 35 postseason games over the past three seasons.
“You look up at the scoreboard and there’s only one game being played besides yours three years in a row this time of the year – that is pretty darn impressive,” Maddon said of the Cubs’ three consecutive trips to the NLCS. “Speaking to the group, speaking to the organization itself, that is not lost on me.
“Believe me, that’s pretty special stuff, because you can ask any other groups in major league baseball that have not had that same situation and ask them what they think about it.
“Hopefully everybody understands that,” he added. “Hopefully our fans understand that , where we’ve come from over the last three years and we intend to stay on the same path for many years to come.”
The Cubs started play Wednesday well aware that only one team in major-league history had ever come all the way back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series – Epstein’s Boston Red Sox in 2004 against the Yankees in the ALCS.
“It’s happened once. Let’s make it happen twice,” Almora said.
But even without that happening, the Cubs’ three LCS trips in a row already is something the Red Sox haven’t done.
And the six victorious rounds of postseason play over these three seasons? Before that, the Cubs had a mere three such successes in franchise history.
“God, I could not be more pleased,” Maddon said of how the Cubs even got this far after. “Our guys learned a lot this year, coming off last year. How do you win, how do you play that deeply into the year and then compete and be good again the next year and get back to the promised land? Not easy. And I really believe a lot of lessons were learned this year that we’re going to be able to carry with us.”
Beyond adding pitching, the Cubs know they sit in the kind of position the franchise hasn’t been able to boast since the first half of the last century.
“As a group when you’re this successful for three consecutive years, there’s tweaking going on; there’s not mass reconstruction,” Maddon said. “It’s not overt plastic surgery. I think it’s just something minor. Might just have to cut off a zit here or there. But it’s not necessarily augmentation.”
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