Cubs playing for OctoberBy Matt Verderame
Going into their four-game series the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs have moved to a 12-game lead in the National League Central.
In other words, turn out the lights on the race. Chicago is clearly going to win the Central and, barring total collapse, home-field advantage in the National League playoffs. It is a weird position for the Cubs, a franchise that has not won the World Series since 1908 and has not reached the Fall Classic since 1945.
Under manager Joe Maddon, the Cubs won 94 games last season before dispatching the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in the NL Wild Card Game. After that, it was the Cardinals in a three-game sweep which culminated at Wrigley. Oddly enough, it was the first time the Cubs had finished off a postseason series at home.
While its season did end in a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series, Chicago earned valuable experience on the biggest stage. Now, the Cubs can spin all of it forward as it plays out the last eight weeks of the regular season, having little to nothing to play for.
Chicago is 71-41 and for all intents and purposes, the best team in the sport. The pitching staff is deep and diverse with the talents of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey and the underrated Kyle Hendricks. The bullpen is hurt by the injury to Pedro Strop, but the acquisition of Aroldis Chapman will take care of business come the ninth inning.
Despite the early-season torn knee ligaments of Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs have perhaps the deepest lineup in the National League. Chicago is trotting out the beastly duo of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, who has to be considered the lead man for Most Valuable Player. Around them are the talents of Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward and so many more.
Should the Cubs not get to the Fall Classic, it would be a true upset. While there are some excellent teams in the NL such as the Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cardinals, none have the complete roster with such a capable manager at the helm. Chicago has everything it could ever ask for. If it doesn’t happen now, when?
The Cubs biggest enemy is time. The next two months are going to be an exercise in trying to stay awake as other teams fight for their collective lives.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in the postseason will be the first for Chicago, having to raise its level against a team that has been playing playoff baseball for months.
Of course, the Cubs will take that scenario.