CHICAGO -- Maybe the best way to put perspective on the Chicago Cubs' awful finish to a great overall season is to use manager Joe Maddon's 30-minute rule. In fact, he told his team to use it after Wednesday's 8-3 defeat to the New York Mets, who swept the Cubs out of the NLCS and ended their season.
"I talked to them, first of all, listen, go ahead and lose hard for 30 minutes like we always do, then let's move it along and really understand and celebrate what we accomplished this year," Maddon said after the Game 4 loss.
It's probably the right attitude for fans as well. Yes, the long championship drought for the Cubs continues, and frustration over being dominated by the Mets is understandable but for one of the few times in Cubs history we know they're building something to last. For the foreseeable future, a subpar season will be the surprise not the norm. That's something to be celebrated.
"We have a good idea of things we can accomplish with the guys that are here," Jake Arrieta said. "There's nothing to hang your head about. Ran into an extremely hot team that just outplayed us."
By the time reporters got to the players, it had been about 30 minutes, so processing the shellacking that had just happened, and moving on to feeling better about the whole season had already taken place. Pitcher Jon Lester, for example, refused to even acknowledge the rough ending.
"You can only take positives," Lester said. "I like to sit back and think of the positives.
"There are a lot of things that are in this clubhouse and will be in next year's clubhouse that are all positives. I hope everyone in here harps on the positives."
Most agreed with that sentiment, though Arrieta admitted the series sweep "stung," but it wouldn't last long. The feeling around the team wasn't about an ending to a season but about a beginning of something special. Sure they could have kept going this year, but that would have been the upset. This wasn't supposed to happen in the first place, not with so much youth. Getting to this point was tough enough.
"You can fool people through the season and win games," Lester said. "This (playoffs) is where you get exposed and figure out how to truly win. We did it twice, came up a little short here, but it's only going to make us better. Guys will come into spring training more hungry. They know how to win now. They know how to compete day in and day out. Guys will come in and expect to be in this position."
And that will be the difference between the beginning of this year and the next one. In 2015, they learned how to win; in 2016, they'll expect it. Right from the start.
"I mentioned to them how important it is as we move forward and we go to spring training next year, we know exactly what we want to do and how we want to do it," Maddon said. "On top of that, our young players have learned how to win on the major league level, which matters. And to get within four games of the World Series in your freshman year is not a bad thing."
No one is guaranteed anything for the future but no one can take away what the Cubs young players just experienced either. It's not something in the air. It's tangible, important and now behind them.
"We know what we have here," Kris Bryant said. "We'll come in hungrier next year, but we learned a lot.
"We hit a down point at the wrong time and they were swinging the bats well and pitching it. They just beat us."
Even in getting beat badly, the Cubs learned plenty. The front office learned it will need a few more starters to compete in a long postseason, and the players learned how sharp you have to be when you're not hitting. No one can predict when a team will slump at the plate but playing defense can always be a constant. It didn't happen against the Mets -- but there were no excuses for the poor performance.
This was the year to overachieve. The Cubs did it with the likely manager of the year, rookie of the year and possible Cy Young award winner. The bar has been set higher as lessons were learned and rookies graduated to their sophomore years. Now, finally, it's time to expect the longest championship drought in pro sports history to be attacked head on -- not as a fluke or simply if and when things come together. The Cubs are to make it happen as their overarching plan continues to come together.
"You've got to look at the positives that are involved," Maddon said. "And that's what I want them to really focus on when they go home and they have a chance to reflect individually and as a group all that we've accomplished this year."
The Cubs accomplished a lot, just not everything. That's what 2016 is for.