First, for those who didn’t stay up, a little bit of rivalry schadenfreude from the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales:
After taking a collective shot and sharing some hugs early Wednesday morning, Cubs players reflected on their sudden elimination from the postseason in which they failed to reach the National League Division Series for the first time in four years.
Despite the team winning 95 games, breakout star Javier Baez pinpointed a flaw that seemed apparent even when the Cubs led the NL Central by five games with four weeks left in the season.
“We were never in a rhythm of winning games,” said Baez, whose two-out single scored Terrance Gore in the eighth inning for the Cubs’ lone run in a 2-1, 13-inning loss to the Rockies in the NL wild-card game. “And I think it was because were paying attention to other teams as we were going down because we lost so many people from our lineup that we were paying attention to other teams. That’s not how it works. That’s how I look at it.
“Next year we’re going to come back and fight again and make adjustments about that. I don’t want to hear nothing about other teams. We know what we’ve got.”
After pitching six innings of four-hit ball but receiving no run support, veteran left-hander Jon Lester believes the sudden elimination can serve as a learning tool.
“Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good,” said Lester, owner of three World Series rings with two years left on his contract. “Now, we’re taking the bad.
“Sometimes you need to get your (expletive) knocked in the dirt in order to appreciate where you’re at. Maybe we needed that, maybe we needed to get knocked down a peg or two to realize nothing is going to be given to us.”
Left-hander Cole Hamels hopes the Cubs will pick up his $20 million option for 2019, in part because of his positive experience after getting traded from the Rangers on July 27 and the desire to be part of a rebound.
“Hopefully this is something I can be a part of next year,” said Hamels, who threw two scoreless innings of relief in the loss. “I was very fortunate to make the postseason when I was very young (in 2007 with the Phillies). We were swept by Colorado, and that taught us what the postseason really was. And what it was to not just play to the end but play to the end of the postseason. And we won the World Series the next year. This is a tremendous experience for a lot of guys.
“You have to go through the hardships before you get to the big moments. I know there are a lot of players here who won the World Series, but there’s also a lot who didn’t have that certain participation that you look for. That’s great for them.”
But the cold reality is that the team will not stay fully intact because of free agency, payroll considerations and the need to address shortcomings.
“There’s going to be new guys in there,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “That’s just the nature of the game. That’s unfortunate. There are guys we’ve grown close to. We wish it could be the same group to go back to battle next year, but there’s got to be changes.
“You got to keep the relationships close. Whoever ends up being here, they’ll be all in and remember this feeling going into next year and use that as motivation and march all the way to the end, hopefully.”
Next season could result in a bigger leadership role for Baez, who led the Cubs with 34 home runs and 111 RBIs and likely will take over at shortstop if Addison Russell doesn’t return.
Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters before the game that a decision on Russell, who is on administrative leave while MLB investigates his ex-wife’s allegations of domestic abuse, could come shortly.
“What hurts me is the teammates that are leaving,” Baez said. “I like to learn a lot from my teammates, even if it’s good or bad.
“We have a lot of free agents this year. One is Stropy (reliever Pedro Strop), who is one of my best friends in my whole career.”
The Cubs hold a $6.25 million option on Strop with a $500,000 buyout.
That’s the Cubs’ problem. The Brewers had a different problem this year — attendance, The team with the best record in the National League finished 10th in attendance, at 2.85 million, averaging 35,195 fans (many of whom came dressed as empty seats based on visual evidence) at 41,900-capacity Miller Park. If you measure by my preferred metric, percentage of seats sold, the Brewers tied for seventh, selling 84 percent of their tickets.
The 2018 Brewers did better than last year, when they averaged 31,589 to total 2.56 million in attendance, which still was 10th best in baseball. But between 2017 and 2018 the Brewers made two huge acquisitions, outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, and during the season made several acquisitions (as I did not predict) to improve their roster.
Perhaps this is what happens when a team appears to be a world-beater, trails off, and then suddenly picks things back up in the last month of the season, as the Brewers did. And there is another view …
… that claims the Brewers did better than everybody else when compared by market size. That, however, strikes me as coming up with a statistic to justify what you want to claim. Like it or don’t, fans who don’t show up (including those who bought tickets but don’t use them, which baffles me given how much money tickets now cost) don’t pay for parking or buy concessions or swag in the gift shop. Miller Park is built to extract as much money from fans as possible (as is the case with every ballpark built since the 1990s), so when that’s not happening management should be concerned.
Greater Milwaukee (including Green Bay) is considered the 36th biggest market of the 53 U.S. markets with at least one team of the four major professional sports leagues, and the smallest Major League Baseball market, as well as the fourth smallest National Football League market and the fourth smallest National Basketball Association market.
Baseball’s perpetually screwed up economics means that small-market teams (including but not limited to the Brewers) have to get practically every player acquisition decision right, because they lack the financial resources to go out and sign whoever they want to sign, as the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers can do. Fortunately the big-market teams don’t always get those decisions right (see Darvish, Yu, Cubs). But we wouldn’t be discussing postseason baseball at Miller Park had the Brewers not acquired position players Yelich, Cain, Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop and Curtis Granderson and pitchers Gio Gonzalez. Wade Miley and Joakim Soria.
What this says is you better enjoy this postseason however long it lasts, because it took a lot of work to get here, and the future is never guaranteed, especially when your two archrivals (the Cubs and St. Louis) had underwhelming seasons and therefore expect to make major changes to get better.