David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
There is a major difference between being ahead of schedule and arriving at the destination. The Mets and Cubs, on the eve of this NLCS, find themselves in that middle ground. They've made it to baseball's Final Four, further than all but a handful of dreamers predicted, but remain eight wins away from a World Series ring.
Impressive? Sure. Both teams showed what elite young talent is capable of doing by taking the training wheels off early.
The Mets rely on a rotation of kids, starting with Noah Syndergaard at 22 up to Jacob deGrom, the elder statesman, at 27. The Cubs have used a twenty-something wrecking crew of Kyle Schwarber (22), Kris Bryant (23) and Anthony Rizzo (26).
With so much youth and so much talent, the temptation is to imagine budding National League dynasties, with affordable players under team control for the next few years, at least. But if the Mets and Cubs know anything, it's not to take such things for granted.
There hasn't been a trophy in Flushing since Jesse Orosco flung his glove skyward to finish the 1986 title on the Shea Stadium mound.
As for the Cubs, well, there's no need to go into much detail there. Suffice to say, they haven't been to a World Series since losing to the Tigers in 1945. Otherwise, for Citi Field fans looking for a derisive number to taunt their Second City visitors with, it's 1908.
These two franchises, more than most, have to respect the process. There is the 162-game thinning of the herd -- in the Cubs' case, a winner-take-all wild-card game, too -- followed by the ultra-pressurized best-of-five Division Series. The mistake, however, would be to assume this is only a step in the maturation of these still-developing teams.
Right now, it no longer matters how the Mets and Cubs got to the NLCS, or what that means for potentially brighter days at Citi or Wrigley. The window always closes sooner than anyone thinks, leaving the loser to wonder what might have been.
"We like how we're set up for the future," Sandy Alderson said Friday. "But there's no guarantee going forward."
Just look at the casualty rate for young pitching staffs. Three of the Mets' four playoff starters already have had Tommy John surgery, and another one being counted on for 2016 -- Zack Wheeler -- currently is rehabbing from it. Teams remain at the mercy of the sport's unforgiving demands on promising pitchers.
The Mets also appear willing to let NLDS hero Daniel Murphy walk when this season eventually ends. No big shock there, but after Murphy almost single-handedly sunk the Dodgers -- homering twice off Clayton Kershaw and ripping Zack Greinke for the Game 5 winner -- who's to say how much his absence could affect the Mets next year?
Not to mention the strong likelihood that Yoenis Cespedes will secure his big payday elsewhere after being the Mets' second-half MVP.
Factor these things in, along with the Mets' insistence on keeping the payroll in the middle of the MLB pack, and there's no telling if this NLCS trip will prove to be the start of a mid-October ritual or an infrequent, comet-like occurrence.
The last time the Mets were here, in 2006, that felt like the dawn of a dynasty, with the duo of David Wright and Jose Reyes at the core of a big-spending juggernaut.
Two collapses of varying degrees and nine years later, the Mets finally are back, under a whole new business model. That's a sizable wait. Maybe short by the Cubs' long-suffering standard, but a lifetime to the sport's golden franchises such as the Giants, Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox.
Despite the way Terry Collins' "gravy" comments before NLDS Game 5 may have been twisted out of context, you won't find the Mets or Cubs saying they're just happy to be here. The only satisfaction to be taken from this NLCS should come from winning it. Because assuming a return in 2016 to finish the job would be foolhardy.
"I want to believe that we're going to be pertinent for the next several years, and I know the Mets are," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "But I think there are other teams that are really ascending, too."
That's why the future is now, in this NLCS, for both teams.