Cubs fans sweat­ing out close race

Play­ers, man­ager say it’s time to en­joy more, worry less.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - THE INSIDER - Jeff Arnold

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.”

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