The Major League Baseball playoffs are underway and for the third fall in a row Cubs fans have a rooting interest.
You millennials may feel differently, but those of us with no hair, gray hair and character in our faces certainly never would have believed the day would come, let alone what happened Nov. 1, 2016, in Cleveland.
If you're like me, the footage never gets old. You can watch highlights and documentaries over and over again, much like a favorite movie. At first, a part of me needed the reassurance. I'd see the Rajai Davis home run and wonder if the outcome was actually going to be the same. It was and the afterglow was glorious, a lifetime of loyalty, faith through all of the bad and the painful near misses finally rewarded.
Come March and spring training, you start thinking, can they do it again? Dare you even think about it? The 2017 regular season was no 2016. It didn't come easily this time. The struggles were real. There was regression to the mean, particularly among the pitchers. More players missed time. Not every move panned out. Milwaukee and, to a lesser extent, St. Louis, made it interesting deep into September, though the Cubs showed their mettle.
As the postseason starts, most analysts rate the Cubs no higher than fifth in the field of 10 (now eight with the Wild Card games in the books). Los Angeles and Washington have been the class of the National League. It's hard to argue.
The Nationals' trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strausburg and Gio Gonzalez have been nails and Washington constructed a deep bullpen through free agency to complement a potent lineup. Is Bryce Harper going to be the pre-injury Harper? The Nats aren't nearly as formidable if he's not.
As for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Rich Hill, yeah, that Cub of long ago, head the N.L.'s No. 1 staff. L.A. can be a little shaky getting to closer Kenley Jansen and can be shut down by good lefties, but 104 wins is 104 wins.
Get by them and the American League might even be better. Cleveland and Houston both exceeded 100 wins. The Astros led all of baseball in runs and solidified their pitching with the key acquistion of Justin Verlander. The Indians allowed under 3.5 runs per game. Chris Sale could do a Madison Bumgarner for Boston in a seven-game series and the Yankees can mash.
Of course, it wasn't easy for the Cubs last year, but if you were like me, you had a quiet confidence (well, as much confidence as a Cubs fan could have) that they were somehow going to get it done, whether it was the Giants, Dodgers or Indians.
Do you feel that way this time? I hate to say it, but I don't. Jon Lester is struggling and Jake Arrieta's hurt. Joe Maddon won't be able to go rented mule on Wade Davis like he did Aroldis Chapman. The lineup concerns me the least, but the old adage tells you what happens when good hitting means good pitching.
I can see the Cubs making to back to the World Series (and losing to the Indians), but an exit against Washington wouldn't surprise me either.
I was a basket case during the playoffs last year. There's a strange calm over me as Friday's first game approaches. I know that serenity will go away with the opening pitch, but if you're like me, the 2016 World Series changed everything for you as a Cubs fan. You're going to ride the same emotional rollercoaster. You're going to want it just as much. If it doesn't end the same way it did a year ago, you're going to deal with it a lot better than if Game 7 had ended 8-7 in the Indians' favor.
That's what experiencing something you never thought you would experience does to you.