Losing sucks—it sucks expired milk through a curly straw, and that's the bottom line—but let's play a game. Imagine that you are a GM or an owner and, look out, here comes a baseball genie with a simple question: Which team do you want to be for the next ten years? Your options are the New York Mets, who just crushed a can of Old Style while cruising on high-speed rails toward the World Series, or the Chicago Cubs, who played the role of that can over four not especially tense games. Who do you choose?
In the most basic sense, the Cubs are done and another season is lost. In a broader sense, though, fuck all that. This Cubs team is going to spend the next five seasons smashing the National League. What they are now is a fraction of what they will be, and these playoffs have only served as a warning. The genie would not have to wait long for an answer.
The reason isn't complicated. This Cubs team is mind-bendingly young, and already quite good. They just won 97 games and stomped into the NLCS, and they're going to get better.
The Cubs scored an average of 4.25 runs per game in the regular season, good for 16th in baseball. Really, though, that's not fair because as an NL team they don't get the DH. The top run-scoring NL team is the Rockies, who ranked fifth overall, but that's not fair either, because the Cubs don't play in a park where what should be pop-ups to shortstop instead drop into the waiting mitts of fans in the center field nosebleeds. The highest-scoring NL team this season, non-Rockies division, is the Diamondbacks, at eighth, with 4.44 runs per game. The Cubs did, however, outscore the Mets, the Dodgers, and the Cardinals; they were just .05 runs per game behind the Pirates.
None of that is why they're going to be better. This does: the Cubs have eight hitters with 400 or more plate appearances this season; six of those players are under 30, and four of those are 25 or younger. This season, the Cubs got just 69 (very nice) games from Kyle Schwarber (age 22), 28 from Javier Baez (also 22), and 101 games from Jorge Soler (23), and they were still one of the best hitting teams in the National League. At 24 years old, Kris Bryant is already an All-Star and a terrifying homer-hitting monster.
You can imagine what this lineup will look like when all these stud hitters are 27, but you could also just wait: all of them will still be under Cubs control at that point. And, most likely, they'll be relatively affordable—right now, they're downright cheap—which leaves the ultra-smart front office to use the Ricketts' family fortune to supplement the roster in free agency as needed.
That's the other thing: besides being young and stacked with talent, the Cubs are Scrooge McDuck rich. Chicago's payroll this season was $120 million, on the low side for a big market team, and that's after adding Jon Lester's $25 million per season. The Cubs can throw another $30 million per on top of that for David Price or Zack Greinke if they want without Tom Ricketts noticing a change in the level of his money-diving tank. They can bring Matt Wieters in as a backup next season on a one-year pillow contract and hope he remembers how to be an All-Star. They can trade for Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel if they want to blow teams away late in games. They can do whatever they want, and the people making the decisions are smart enough to do it right. They will smash some shit up, and soon.
After 2013, the Boston Red Sox were supposed to rule baseball with their great farm system and their World Series win. Instead they've parlayed it all into two consecutive last-place finishes. Baseball, it turns out, is difficult to predict, but we know aging curves. We know the crushing power of young talent like Schwarber, Soler, Bryant, and Addison Russell. We know having two aces like Lester and Jake Arrieta helps a lot, and good lord if they get another we'll all be subjected to untold rounds of Super Rotation articles again.
So while we can't predict the future, we do know some things. The Cubs roster is stocked to overflowing with talent so young that improvement is bound to happen—not linearly, not perfectly, not everywhere, but on balance and dramatically. It can be difficult in times of stress to see the greater picture, and especially so with a mouthful of curly straw and expired milk, but this Cubs team sure seems like the future, and not even a distant one. It's the future like the next rest stop on the turnpike is the future. Need to pee? Just hold on a minute, Cubs fans, we're almost there.