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Sunday, the Chicago Cubs won their 97th game of the season — 8th straight — and finished in third place in the NL Central and in all of Major League Baseball. They would have won every other division in baseball by at least two games. The Cubbies struck out the most batters in the history of the National League, while also leading the league in strikeouts by a healthy margin. There’s a chance that in a few weeks, the NL Manager of the Year (Joe Maddon), Cy Young (Jake Arrieta) and Rookie of the Year Awards (Kris Bryant) will all be awarded to members of a franchise that averaged 94 losses over the past four seasons.
It’s possible that when they face off with the Pittsburgh Pirates in a loser-goes-home Wild Card game Wednesday night (Editor’s update: The Cubs won, 4-0) that the Cubs will start five players under the age of 26, three of whom (Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Bryant) began the year in the minor leagues. The Cubs could start two more rookies — Jorge Soler and Javier Baez — and no one would even blink. It has, by any and all measures known to man or beast, been an amazing season.
As a third generation Cubs fan, I want them to win it all for so many reasons. I want my grandpa, the man who got my brother and myself hooked on the Cubs as kids, to see it happen. Same with my pops. They’ve stuck with the Cubs through all the heartbreak, when many others switched allegiances to better convenience their weak psyches, incapable of continuously rooting for perpetual losers.
I want it for myself. I’ve never experienced what it feels like to have one of my teams win it all. I want that so badly. I want it for every Cubs fan out there who’s just like my grandpa, my dad, my brother and myself. I’m 23, so I can only speak from my own experiences, but I’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to know what 1969, 1984, and 1989 mean to long-time fans.
I want it for all of us who experienced the high of Slammin’ Sammy Sosa’s magical ’98 season and the low of his ’03 corked bat incident and unceremonious departure from the franchise. I want it for every fan who remembers where they were when Steve Bartman robbed Moises Alou and Alex Gonzalez booted that ball (I was 12, in my parents family room, learning how unfair life can be).
I want it because staying patient when Theo Epstein came on board was extremely difficult, and, to put it eloquently, losing sucks. I want it for Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams. I want it because I live in a town full of Cardinals fans, and I’m tired of their snarky remarks and smug faces.

But the Cardinals could send the boys home in the NLDS.

Quite simply, this season has been magical. Improbable is probably the better word. The Cubs weren’t supposed to be this good yet, which has made it all the more memorable. It seems like ages since Kris Bryant was called up. I remember calling my brother, a senior at the University of Illinois, the night the news of Bryant’s call-up came out, and we agreed we had to go see the hype for ourselves.

I remember freezing my ass off with him and a buddy as we watched Bryant collect three hits in his second game, capped off by a Starlin Castro walk off-single in extra innings, one of several for him on the year. I remember going to Sluggers after that game, feeling a palpable energy, even in early April. I remember (hazily, I must admit) the best fans in baseball belting “Living on A Prayer” at the top of their lungs. I remember my buddy turning to me and saying “I don’t care if it’s early, this team is special.”

Even special teams can lose in the NLCS.

I’ve enjoyed every single part of this season. I’ve enjoyed Joe Maddon and his disdain for the traditional (batting practice, sacrifice bunts, etc). I’ve enjoyed reading about the Cubs disco parties after wins and the special camaraderie the team shares. I’ve enjoyed watching Bryant, Russell, Schwarber and Soler grow up right before our eyes.

I’ve enjoyed watching Jake Arrieta tap into that potential he’s always had, and I’ve enjoyed watching him put together the best season for any Cubs starting pitcher — ever. I’ve enjoyed watching Anthony Rizzo become a special leader. I’ve enjoyed texting my brother “Rizzo beaned” every time Rizzo got one of his league-leading 31 plunks. It started as a joke the first week of the season, as Rizzo’s body acted as a human baseball magnet. We had no idea he was on the way to become only the second player in major league history to tally at least 30 home runs and 30 hit-by-pitches.

I’ve enjoyed Miguel Montero and his infectious positivity, including the #WeAreGood hashtag he started in May. I’ve enjoyed Starlin Castro’s resurgence after being benched and moved from the shortstop position. I’ve enjoyed Jason Hammel‘s first half, Dexter Fowler‘s second half, and Chris Coghlan‘s entire season.

I’ve enjoyed Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Tommy La Stella, and every other player who put on a Cubs uniform this season. I’ve enjoyed role players, one after another, leaving their mark on this team and this season. David Ross picking off a runner at first base to end a game against the Nationals, Matt Szczur hitting a walk-off against the Pirates, and Chris Denorfia hitting a walk-off  against the Royals. Hell, even Taylor Teagarden (remember him?) clinched a game with a hit off Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. Every player, yes — even Jonathan Herrera — has had a moment this season.

Alas, the Cubs could fall short in the Playoffs.

As Cubs fans, we’re in a tricky situation here. We know this is a special team that, despite its flaws, can definitely win it all this year. We also know that a team this young and inexperienced in the Playoffs isn’t supposed to win it all. We know this team is ahead of schedule, but we’re keenly aware that nothing in the future is guaranteed.

‘This is the year!’ can too easily become ‘next year is really the year.’ My advice is to go all in with this team in October, but don’t forget how fun this season had been. No, simply making it to the Playoffs is never the goal, but if the season ends prematurely, it doesn’t mean this team failed. Whatever happens against the Cardinals (I believe the Cubs will win), don’t descend into cynicism and negativity. It won’t help, and this team deserves better.

I’m not saying prepare yourself for the worst, and I’m not saying it won’t hurt. If they lose, it’s going to hurt like hell. Just don’t play the blame game — that’s what Cardinals fans and all the other haters want to see happen. They want to see Cubbie Nation divided amongst itself, as so often happens. This Cubs team can play with anyone.

The Cubs can win the World Series and end the longest championship drought in professional sports. The Cubs can become champions for the first time since 1908.