Cubs fans sweating out close race
Players, manager say it’s time to enjoy more, worry less.
CHICAGO — As the autumnal bluish orange sky faded to black Tuesday night on the North Side, Cubs fans at Wrigley Field were not exactly sure what to expect.
A year after their team ran away with the National League Central Division en route to the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908, they were simply hoping that the Cubs could hold onto their shrunken division lead through the rest of September and get a chance to defend their title.
In other words, a season that started with the Cubs raising a championship flag had become something of a war of attrition, especially after the Cubs were swept at home last weekend by the Milwaukee Brewers, who, along with the St. Louis Cardinals, are trying to win the NL Central title themselves.
The best news for the Cubs was that they then got to play the Mets, whom they outscored 39-14 in a threegame sweep. Two Octobers ago, the Mets battered the Cubs in the NL Championship Series, but these days the New York club is a collection of unproven players finishing out a season that went belly up a while ago.
In the three contests against the Brewers, the Cubs scored all of three runs and saw their division lead narrowed to two games. In a season in which the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians have taken turns looking unbeatable, the Cubs have looked just good enough to repeat as division winners, but nothing more.
But the awful weekend against the Brewers raised the possibility that the Cubs will not even be able to do that and might not make it as a wild-card team, either. Or at least it raised that possibility in the minds of Cubs fans, who, 2016 aside, have spent a lifetime being disappointed by their team. In the Cubs’ clubhouse before Tuesday’s game, however, the mood was more upbeat.
“I tell everyone, take the positives out of everything to this point, where we are, coming out of the greatest championship in sports history and in position to win the division again,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “I think everyone needs to start rallying around us more now instead of maybe panicking a little bit.”
And, Rizzo added, “We’re going to get hot.”
That would help. Eleven of the Cubs’ remaining games will be played against the Cardinals and Brewers.
The Cardinals arrived at Wrigley Field this weekend. The Cubs then travel to Milwaukee and St. Louis for eight straight games later this month before they finish the season at home against the Reds.
Whether that final weekend of the season will be triumphant or nerve-racking remains to be seen.
“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” reigning MVP Kris Bryant said. “No team is just going to roll over.”
Meanwhile, his manager, Joe Maddon, has remained as unflappable as ever and chose not to do anything different — like calling a team meeting — in the wake of the sweep by the Brewers.
“When things tighten up like this, they need you to be consistent, not inconsistent,” Maddon said. “If I were to do something like that — that is something I would never do. It would send all the wrong signals.”
Maddon has instead stuck to his script, seeming to understand that if the Cubs are going to win another championship this season (their title in 1908, after all, followed one in 1907), it will have to be along a bumpier road than last season’s. And he is fine with that.
“I’ve often told my players perfection is a boring concept,” he said. “If it was that easy to do, nobody would ever do it. I like the fact that it’s difficult right now, and I think that we should learn something about ourselves going forward.
“The biggest thing to learn is that it’s not about anybody else. It’s about us playing well. If we play well and take care of our business, we’ll be fine.”
Manager Joe Maddon said before the Cubs swept the Mets: “I’ve often told my players perfection is a boring concept . ... I like the fact that it’s difficult right now, and I think that we should learn something about ourselves going forward.”