Cubs disappointed, but future is bright
Majority of components that made up 97-win team to return
LOS ANGELES -- For Jim Hendry, Saturday night was too soon to look ahead.
The Cubs GM was still dealing with the disappointment of being swept by the Dodgers when he stood in the middle of a somber clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.
"It's a little early, I mean we just got eliminated," Hendry said. "I'm sure we'll try to tinker with it. We won 97 games with a lot of good players, and we just happened to play poorly for three days, that's all. We'll keep trying until we get it done."
Getting swept for the second straight year is no doubt a bitter pill for Cubs Nation, but when the sun rises Sunday morning in Chicago -- and rest assured it will -- the future for the Cubs is still very bright.
Most of the main parts from a team that won a National League-best 97 games is under contract through at least the 2009 season. The main exceptions are starter Ryan Dempster and closer Kerry Wood, and the Cubs have expressed a desire to bring both players back.
"We have a very good team, and I like our chances," outfielder Alfonso Soriano said about 2009. "We had a chance last year, we had a chance this year, but we didn't finish like we wanted to finish."
The starting rotation, a strength throughout the year, will return Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden, who has a $7 million club option for next season that will certainly be picked up.
Key offensive contributors like first baseman Derrek Lee, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, Soriano, catcher Geovany Soto and Mark DeRosa are all under contract or club control for next year.
That's a good thing because, though it may get overlooked now after their disappointing production against the Dodgers, the Cubs lineup was plenty potent in 2008. They led the league in runs scored with 855, marking the first time they've collected more than 850 runs since 1930.
Even if the club was to lose Wood, the bullpen would still be plenty tough at the back end with Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija under club control.
And yes, it's been 100 years since they won a World Series, but they are no longer the Loveable Losers. Instead they are a team that will head into 2009 as a favorite to make their third straight postseason appearance.
Think that's not a big deal? Consider that the last time the Cubs made the postseason in back-to-back years was 1906-08.
After he talked about how a lack of offense cost his team both last year and this year, Cubs manager Lou Piniella was asked about how frustrated he was.
"I'm just stating facts which are obvious and true," he said. "I'm not frustrated. I congratulated the team on a fine season, I thanked them for their hard work and their preparation and I told them to enjoy their families this winter."
For his part, Soriano was asked what he would say to the Cubs fans that have waited so long to see their team win a World Series.
"Stay patient because we've got a good team," Soriano said. "I think everyone is disappointed. We had a good team this year and we didn't get it done, but I think next year we'll have a good team, and hopefully we can go a little farther."
Piniella was asked the same question.
"The fans?" he said. "Look, we thank them for their support. They are wonderful fans. The City of Chicago, the way they supported us, I think it's wonderful. My players, they tried their butts off. I salute them for that, I really do."
The early end to the season might be a hard thing for Cubs fans to accept, but as Soriano correctly pointed out, it does not mean that the team is fatally flawed.
"It's not the best team that wins in the playoffs," he said. "It's the team that plays better."
Last year, that team was the D-backs. This year, it was the Dodgers. Next year, it could be the Cubs.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.