Wild card. Cubs can’t hold; fold and walk away from post-season.

The Cubs gave it their best shot but still came up short against the Rockies. Something had to give after 12 innings of increasingly tense baseball. Missed opportunities by both teams created an historic drama for early October baseball and fans of any team anywhere.

After their loss to Milwaukee and their division title the day before, the Cubs were on the ropes. They  refused to admit it, though. And you have to give Manager Maddon credit – he went all out to get to the next level but still came up short, as did his team.

All through September the Cubs seemed to play on residual air. The string of consecutive games due to, literally, a weather-beaten schedule took its toll at the end. (I posted on Facebook, “Ernie Banks never said, ‘Let’s play forty-two!’”) Their pitching was an adventure, exhilarating at times but erratic and unpredictable, by the bullpen in particular. Their  hitting was flaccid for the most part, especially in clutch situations. Far too  often “…and they died there…” became the epitaph for runners on base.

Still, the season had its bright spots and a few times even felt like ’16 all over again. The team seemed cohesive, was having fun, and fans kept filling Wrigley. Injuries are always a reality over the long season but it was looking like the team would be almost whole for the playoffs. Of course, there is no measure for the impact of personal, off-field problems on team focus. The timing of such could not have been worse.

That said, looking ahead is what the sadly unexpected long off-season is all about. Team executives and management need to tighten the roster’s weaknesses, specifically on the mound. Fortunately, the team remains young, full of talent, potential and, hopefully, ripe with lessons learned. Age, however, is a real factor of the team’s pitching problems, requiring more than fine-tuning in the coming months. As for hitting, some necessary trades should help. What remains crucial for next season, however, is hanging on to team morale and what remains of the charisma of 2016.

There is no going back, to be sure. But the Cubs need to make the most of what they have while they have it. In baseball, youth cannot afford to be wasted on the young, or by the young. Youth is the breeding ground of mega-players and both the Cubs and their fans know the team has its fair share of them. It’s up to Mr. Maddon to challenge and massage that talent, as he does so well, with the spirit and focus of 2016 so the 2019 Cubs can go all the way!