It looked like an impossible collision in 2003 when both the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox were on the brink of reaching the World Series, setting up an epic battle of teams starving for a championship.

The Cubs took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven National League championship series but lost three straight games to the Florida Marlins.

The Red Sox led the Yankees 5-2 in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the ALCS but lost in extra innings.

Boston rebounded to not only win the 2004 World Series – the first for the Red Sox since 1918 – but then won titles in 2007 and 2013.

The Cubs? They have reached the playoffs twice since 2003 and were swept in the first round both times, in 2007 and 2008.

The man credited with building a perennial winner in Boston, Theo Epstein, is now in charge in Chicago.

And the going has been slow for Epstein.

His first season as the Cubs’ president, 2012, ended with a 61-101 record. Year 2 ended with a 66-96 record and the firing of Manager Dale Sveum.

This year, the Cubs were 34-44 through Friday night’s win over Washington.

The Cubs visit Fenway Park on Monday for a three-game series with the struggling Red Sox. Boston may be down this season, but it has those three World Series trophies and both the money and farm system to become a contender again.

The Cubs need a lot of help. And there are questions whether the team has the money to turn things around sooner, rather than later.

When Epstein left Boston after nine years as general manager, he signed on with the Cubs for a reported five-year contract worth $18.5 million.

Epstein celebrated a World Series title in his second year as Boston’s GM, but no one expected him to do the same as quickly in Chicago.

When the 2004 Red Sox won, it was not completely Epstein’s team. Previous general manager Dan Duquette had brought in players such as Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield.

Epstein added his share of key contributors, such as Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, David Ortiz, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar. The point is that he already had a contending team. He tweaked it just right to make it a champion.

When Epstein went to Chicago, he inherited a team that was 71-91. There was not enough talent, nor enough money to bring in free agents.

When the Ricketts family bought the Cubs for $845 million in 2009, the Chicago Sun Times reported that the team had the “heaviest debt load in the majors.” Payroll declined from $134 million in 2011 to $109 million in 2013 and a reported $93 million this season.

Epstein told Comcast Sports of Chicago last year that “our ability to leverage our market size into financial advantages is more difficult than I expected.”

Still, Epstein has improved the organization. He signed two of the team’s brightest young players, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro, to contracts through 2019 with options.

Rizzo, 24, is the former Portland Sea Dogs slugger who was dealt to the Padres after the 2010 season in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. San Diego traded him to the Cubs a year later.

Epstein also traded pitchers Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza for touted prospects along with two relievers who are contributing now – Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm.

Epstein brought former Boston scouting director Jason McLeod to Chicago, and now the Cubs have improved their farm system. According to Baseball America, the Cubs’ farm system went from 16th best in 2011 to No. 5 this year.

The publication ranks the top four position prospects for the Cubs as infielder Javier Baez (first-round draft pick in 2011, before Epstein), third baseman Kris Bryant (first round, 2012), outfielder Albert Almora (first round, 2012) and outfielder Jorge Soler (a Cuban free agent signed through 2020).

McLeod refers to them as the “Core Four” and the label has stuck. Even the Chicago Tribune runs a periodic “Core Four Report,” updating their progress through the minors.

Baez is in Triple-A (batting .237) and Bryant just joined him, having stormed through Double-A (.355, with 22 home runs). Soler is in Double-A but missed over two months because of hamstring problems. Almora is still in Class A (.250).

So the plan for the immediate future is to wait for those prospects to join Rizzo and Castro.

The pitching is OK for now, but top starter Jeff Samardzija (2-6, 2.53 ERA) has turned down a five-year extension for $85 million and is likely to be traded.

The Cubs will get better. While their record is under .500, it is the team’s best this far into the season since 2009. Epstein has said he likes where the team is headed.

Attendance at Wrigley Field has dropped steadily since 2008 (3.3 million), although the Cubs still rank 11th in the majors and are on track for just under 2.6 million this year.

Cubs fans likely will be patient with Epstein, especially if his team shows progress.

The Cubs have not been to a World Series since 1945. They have not won it since 1908. What are a few more years before fielding a contender?