The best thing that could have happened to the Cubs in the short-term is winning the 2015 World Series. It's difficult to dispute that: after 106 years of famously not winning the championship, managing to snap that streak, by any means, would largely be accepted by the Cubs' fan base. They will not do so in 2015, though, as they were swept by the Mets, making it 107 years without a World Series title on the North Side.
There is a bright side to this, though. Well, maybe "bright side" is a little strong, but the season is over, and a straw is being extended toward your grasp, if you would only take hold of it. If the Cubs won in 2015 after going down three games to none against the Mets, it wasn't going to be a story about the Cubs. That story has been told already, by the 2004 Red Sox and the 2004 Yankees, and while normally, joining the ranks of teams to come back from 0-3 to win a best-of-seven is a worthy goal once you're put in that situation, for the Cubs, it would have been a bit different.
That's because Theo Epstein was the general manager of those Red Sox, and he's the President of Baseball Operations for these Cubs. It's because once again, a New York team went up 3-0 on Theo's team, and even at a time when it looked like a club from Missouri would be waiting in the World Series for their opponent. This story has been told, and as much as Cubs fans would have loved for it to be retold with their team in the starring role, it never would have truly been your story alone.
If you don't believe me, just know that, even though no one can take your championship away, people will certainly try to. Red Sox fans still deal with claims that Curt Schilling's bloody sock was not, in fact, bloody. They still deal with people saying coming back from down 0-3 was a fluke, that the Red Sox had calls and weather go in their favor during the four games they won that gained them entry into the World Series that finally ended Babe Ruth's reign of ghostly terror, and now they even deal with people insinuating that you can't appreciate what Schilling did for Boston unless you also embrace him as a person. Get the fuck out with that noise, all of it.
Now, imagine that the Cubs come back from the Mets with their own set of items that the world can nitpick forever. Put that on top of the whole "it's been done before" thing -- it would be special if the Cubs won, yes, but it would be even more special if they followed their own path to do it instead of traversing discovered territory. A large part of the reason the Red Sox' win in 2004 was so incredible was because of the context: it had literally never been done before in baseball, so the improbability was a major factor, and they were winning against their longtime rivals, which also happened to be one of sport's greatest rivalries. You want this to be special, and you want this to be pure: the next Cubs' World Series is the first one you will have seen, the first entry, never mind win, that almost every Cubs' fan alive has even been around for. The Red Sox and their fans had that in 2004, and Cubs' fans deserve a similar story of unique success.
If simply being Chapter 2 in the story of Theo Epstein isn't convincing enough, know, too, that a Cubs' World Series in 2015 would have been about the prescience of Back to the Future Part II as much as it would be about Chicago exorcising its hoofed, grass-munching, cliff-dwelling demons. Maybe not forever, but again, you want all of this to be about your team: there was already so much focus on Back to the Future during the Cubs' run, because 2015 was the year they finally won the World Series in the movie trilogy. You want to read endless words about how the team was built and how it finally won a World Series and where it can go from here, not column after column about the thought process of choosing to end the Cubs' streak instead of that of the Red Sox in a random 80s sequel.
Maybe none of this sounds like it's a problem, and I get it: you literally do not know what a World Series title is or means, what it entails both in the present-day of it nor the future. That's not meant to be condescending, either: I'm trying to let you in on my own experiences, so you know that winning means those who lost are constantly trying to take down your team's successes, to cheapen them, to distract from them. You have already dealt with Cardinals fans telling you things would have been different in the NLDS if only; now imagine the rest of the fan bases getting in on that action about 2015, forever.
Which starter could the Sox trade this offseason?
Despite their pitching woes, the Red Sox have plenty of depth in the rotation. Could Dave Dombrowski deal away a starter this offseason in an attempt to land an ace?
Plus, the Cubs still have a future ahead of them, and could turn this around as soon as 2016. Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Anthony Rizzo -- there is so, so much talent here, and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. If there is a Red Sox model you want to copy, one that won't feel so derivative, so trodden a path, it's in coming back after a crushing League Championship Series loss to win it all the next year. The Red Sox lost in 2003 to the Yankees in seven games, with the final blow coming in extra innings in a game they had comfortably led behind their ace, Pedro Martinez. It is a defeat that still stings even now, three World Series championships and four ALCS appearances later, but 2004 made nearly all of it go away, save the occasional wincing at a replay of Aaron Boone's series-ending shot.
There is no 2004 without 2003. Maybe, for the Cubs, there is no 2016 without 2015. Maybe you will get to face the Mets again, and avenge the previous defeat. Maybe this time, Cubs vs. Cardinals will take place where a rivalry of this magnitude deserves to, with the two squaring off in the NLCS for the right to represent the NL in the World Series. Maybe the Tigers will rebound and show up in the World Series once more, and we'll get a rematch of the 1945 Series, with the Cubs the victorious team this time.
The Cubs winning the World Series would be a great story regardless of the context surrounding it. Once their backs were against the wall, though, once brushing aside the Mets as they had the Cardinals was not going to happen, it was clear there would be better stories to tell, stories that have not yet been told. It's a shame the Cubs lost, as it is always a shame, but now they have an opportunity to tell the story their fans deserve. It's not a World Series, but it's something, and after tacking another season on to the streak, something should be welcome.