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Does Cubs’ NLDS win over Giants signal changing of guard in NL?

Before the start of this Cubs playoff run, Kris Bryant looked around the clubhouse and quickly dismissed the suggestion that the Cubs’ season would be considered a bust if they didn’t win the World Series.

Based on what he saw in the room, he said, this group has “five, six years” to be “making runs like this all the time.”

Never mind for a moment that the deeper the Cubs go in this already breathtaking postseason, the win-it-all-now mandate only grows by the ton.

Or the facts that Aroldis Chapman is a rent-a-closer who goes away next month and that Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are only under club control through next year.

Willson Contreras soaking up his first playoff experience -- and a heedful of suds from Henry Blanco and Pedro Strop.

Willson Contreras soaking up his first playoff experience — and a heedful of suds from Henry Blanco and Pedro Strop.

To Bryant’s larger point, the Cubs spent the last five days – in particular a 22-hour stretch from Monday night into Tuesday night – showing what he meant.

And along the way, this team that could get younger, and stronger, in the next couple of years might have signaled a changing of the guard in the National League with their elimination Tuesday night of the team that had won three of the last six World Series.

When fourth-month rookie Albert Almora Jr. made that run-saving, diving catch (that he turned into a double play) in Monday’s ninth inning and almost made an even more spectacular play in the 13th, the word was out on why the kid made the playoff roster over more experienced players.

And how big he plays into the Cubs plans this month, next April and in those next “five, six years.”

“I told you, he’s not afraid,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Listen, this is the kind of moment here that can really increase this kid’s confidence over the next couple of years. And he’s going to get bigger and stronger. The power is coming.”

The other rookie position player on the playoff roster, catcher Willson Contreras, seems to make a bigger impact the bigger the game gets.

Since debuting in June, he hit .282 with 12 homers during the season, had two hits in his Game 2 playoff start behind the plate (a Cubs victory) and in Tuesday night’s historic ninth inning, he pinch hit with the bases loaded and tied the game with a two-run single – two spots ahead of Javy Baez’s go-ahead hit.

It was just the second time a team had come from three runs behind in the ninth inning to win a postseason clincher (also 1986 Mets at Houston in the NLCS).

“Once the playoffs start, I don’t put pressure on myself,” Contreras said. “I wasn’t nervous at all.”

Suddenly, this team led by veterans Jon Lester, Arrieta and Anthony Rizzo starts looking younger and deeper in talent with Contreras and Almora in the lineup next April.

With Baez going from the top-fielding utility infielder in baseball to breakout playoff star to, maybe, a more stable place in the Cubs’ everyday lineup next year.

“I know what I can do,” Baez said. “And what I do I’ll do it for my team, for my fans, for Chicago.”

For “five, six years”? Don’t forget Bryant is just a second-year player with a Rookie of the Year award from last year and an MVP award likely waiting for him this winter. He went 6-for-16 in the Division Series against the Giants, with two of the biggest hits in the two San Francisco games: a tying two-run homer in Monday’s ninth, and the single that opened Tuesday’s winning rally.

Already, the window includes back-to-back NLCS appearances for the first time in franchise history, the first back-to-back years with postseason series wins since 1907-08.

“If you’re a player on this particular team within the organization, it’s getting to the point now you want to expect to get to the postseason and you want to expect to get deeply into the postseason,” Maddon said.

For years, says Bryant.

But first thing’s first.

“We’re going to enjoy the playoffs,” Contreras said.


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