USA TODAY US Edition
Cubs’ legacy tied to Series title
With division all but locked up, Chicago wants World Series win
ST. LOUIS They are the Golden State Warriors in spikes, Springsteen on the diamond and Warren Buffett with a scorecard. The Chicago Cubs are baseball royalty, the ultimate in perfection with a gaudy 93-52 record and on the brink of taking the first giant step to their most magical season in 108 years.
“Who’s going to beat them?” Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said. “That team is so good. They’re just so complete. It’s scary how good they are with all of their depth.” The most frightening aspect? “These guys are good, but we’re going to get better,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I like what we’ve done a lot this year, and I think it’s been very good, but there’s defi- nitely room for growth and improvement.
“I absolutely believe next year is going to get better.”
Is it permitted, kosher or even lawful to actually discuss back-to-back championships with a franchise that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908?
“I don’t think we feel the pressure like Golden State did, where you’re supposed to go out and dominate every night,” said Cubs catcher David Ross, who homered and
threw out two baserunners Wednesday in the 7-0 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals. “The fans and media have got us going to the World Series already. But, come on, one step at a time.”
It might be one small step for the Cubs but a giant step for Cubkind Thursday when they can coronate their new party room at Wrigley Field with a victory against the Brewers. Their magic number to clinch the National League Central dropped to one after Jon Lester, one of three Cy Young Award candidates on the staff, suffocated the Cardinals lineup, allowing three hits over eight innings.
Go ahead and crank up the volume, turn on the disco lights and dance the night away in what the Cubs envision to be the first of four raucous celebrations over the next six weeks.
“You’ve seen our team,” said Lester, who is 17-4 with a 2.40 ERA, including a 1.47 ERA in the second half. “We don’t like to party too much. I’m sure it will be low-key.”
“It’s been the Cardinals’ division for so long,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit two homers Wednesday to join Hall of Famer Billy Williams as the only Cubs left-handed hitters with multiple 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons. “It’s going to feel really good.”
The team everyone envisioned for greatness since the start of spring training, with more national TV appearances than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, has not only embraced the target, as the players’ T-shirts read, but has almost taunted the idea of pressure.
The Cubs spent six months touring the country as the greatest baseball team in America, and now that they’re on the brink of being the first team to be invited to the October postseason gala, the only question remaining is whether anyone can possibly stop them from winning their first World Series title since the Teddy Roosevelt administration.
Yep, just like that Golden State squad that won more games than any other team in NBA history, only to lose Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I don’t think we feel like we’re anywhere like those guys,” said third baseman Kris Bryant, the leading candidate to win the NL MVP award. “The Warriors were so dominant last year and had all of those great players.
“I know we have the players, too, but you see what happened to them. They lost when it counted. So it didn’t really matter what you do during the season if you can’t finish it off.”
Indeed, despite all the flashy numbers and franchise records, the Cubs know they will ultimately be judged by their performance in October.
“So, no pressure on us, right?” catcher Miguel Montero said, laughing. “I know we have the greatest run differential in like 100 years. We’re doing stuff that hasn’t happened since 1930. But we don’t follow those stories.
“At the end of the day, all I want to do is win the last game of the season, that last World Series game, and that will get everyone’s attention.
“That’s how we want to be remembered, as World Series champions.”
The Cubs, with a 17-game lead in the division and a 61⁄ 2- game lead for home-field advantage in the NL playoffs, are baseball’s most complete team.
They have the finest pitching staff in the game, yielding a .210 batting average, which would be their lowest opposing batting average since 1880, when they were called the Chicago White Stockings. Their starting rotation has a 2.89 ERA, with the Washington Nationals having the second-best mark at 3.48. It would be the Cubs’ lowest ERA since 1963. Their WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) is a minuscule 1.05, which would be the lowest by a Cubs team since at least 1913.
The defense and its range have been uncanny, with the Cubs yielding a .255 batting average on balls in play, according to FanGraphs, the best by any major league team in at least 30 years. This combination of pitching and defense has resulted in 488 opposing runs all season, 50 fewer than the runner-up Nationals. They’re on pace for the fewest runs allowed in a non-strike season in Cubs history since 1945.
And let’s not forget the offense. They have two MVP candidates, Bryant (37 homers, 95 RBI) and Rizzo (31 homers, 101 RBI), and three infielders with at least 20 homers and 90 RBI when you throw in 22-year-old shortstop Addison Russell (20 homers, 91 RBI.) They grind opposing pitchers to death, leading the major leagues with 585 walks — 18 more than all of last season — and are on pace for the highest total in franchise history. And they’ve significantly cut down their strikeouts to 1,211 compared with a franchise-record 1,518 last season.
They’re not just winning, they’re also bludgeoning teams. They’ve outscored opponents by 234 runs, the greatest differential pace in the wild-card era.
Perhaps most impressive is that, even the few games they do lose, they’re never blown out. They’ve lost four games since July 10 by more than four runs. They are 41-17 during that stretch and are on pace to win 104 games, last accomplished in 1910 during the franchise’s glory days.
“Coming into the season there were so many expectations heaped upon us and pressure was applied,” Maddon said. “That’s what created the target as far as I’m concerned. ... Once we get to the point where we have clinched, we will settle into a routine that I’d want to believe will keep them sharp and rested at the same time.
“Put the gas pedal down or hit the brakes a little bit. We’ll just wait and see.”
The luxury the Cubs have is that they’re so deep and talented, no one really needs an extended rest. They’re so versatile that Javier Baez has started every position in the infield. Bryant has played four positions, including 32 starts in left field. Outfielder Jason Heyward awaits the day when he’s called upon to play first base, and Ross has taken ground balls at third base.
“We keep hearing about all of these numbers, and this is the first time we’ve done this or that, but, honestly, we really don’t spend a lot of time on that,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said.
“We know the only ‘first-time since’ number that matters is the big one.”
Yep, 1908, ending 108 years of futility.
“That’s the one that people will remember you for,” Lester said.
The Holy Grail of sports championships awaits.