Just how do you feel about the Cubs' current playoff run? Me, I'm "all-in" on this one; the Kris Bryant walkoff homers, the Jake Arrieta masterpieces, the playoff-type atmosphere at Wrigley Field all have this summer reminiscent of 2008, the best regular season in more than 70 years.
It's not easy letting your emotions go completely for a baseball team that's crushed our souls so many times, but all of us have lived all our lives as Cubs fans aiming for the elusive goal of a World Series title that no living Cubs fan has ever seen, and we have had it almost in our grasp enough times to feel it. So I'm ready to let myself go, despite the possibility of failure, and hope that this unexpected year of contention will be "the year."
At the same time, this current run is an unexpected bonus. The team wasn't really supposed to be "this good" until next year, so the conventional wisdom went; most of us figured the Cubs would be around an 85-win team, hanging around the fringes of contention.
But the Cubs currently stand 20 games over .500, on pace for 90 or more wins, and possibly could even host the wild-card game if September breaks right.
Paul Sullivan expressed these types of thoughts in this Tribune column, and I wanted to call particular attention to this passage:
Everyone knew this would be a difficult trip and that the Cubs would be fortunate to come out .500. But the vibe among fans is much different than the one accompanying some past Cubs contenders, for reasons I can't pinpoint. Except for some of the holdouts from 1969, you get the feeling that no matter what happens people will readily accept it as part of the learning curve for the younger players. We're already on bonus points, they rationalize, so let's just play it out and see what happens.
That's all true. Of course, if the Cubs do wind up in the October tournament, they'd have just as good a chance of any of the teams to get to the World Series. Just ask last year's Giants and Royals, for example.
Sullivan hints at some of the scar tissue we all bear as Cubs fans -- from 1969, 1984, 2003, I certainly don't have to go over all of that again.
I think the current vibe is the way it is because this team resembles the 1967 Cubs. That team, like this one, came pretty much out of nowhere into midsummer contention. Of course, there had been a much longer drought of contention back then -- 20 consecutive non-winning seasons, we currently have "just" five of those. The 1966 Cubs had lost a franchise-record 103 games and so expectations were low in 1967. Like now, that team went on a run, though a bit earlier in the year than this season.
The '67 Cubs went on a run of 22-5 -- remarkably similar to this year's run -- and roared into a first place tie with the Cardinals after defeating the Reds July 2, the first time the Cubs had been in the top spot in the National League that late in the year since 1945. I wrote about this game a couple of years ago, quoting the Tribune game story:
The Cubs scurried to their cave under the left field stands for cover, then kept creeping back to the entrance and peering out with looks of disbelief. "They won't leave," Randy Hundley exclaimed. "Look at 'em, 40,000 people and they won't leave." But the emotionally charged throng in Wrigley field yesterday just kept roaring and chanting, "We're No. 1." One by one the Cubs returned and stuck their necks through the door to gaze amazed at the bedlam brought on by the Cubs' rise to first place. The band of urchins from the coal cellar of the National league had just barged to the top of the stairs and caused everybody in the joint to lose their grip. Ron Santo, who was interviewed on a postgame television show, had to fight his way through the mob to the Cub quarters and when he staggered thru the dressing room door he looked like a man just off a three-day binge. "Don't go out there," he warned his teammates, who wandered around almost stunned as a radio blared a description of the bedlam. "I'm lucky to get back here alive."
That team faded and finished with the third-best record in the National League -- the same spot this year's team currently occupies. Of course, there were no wild cards then, so Cubs fans had to settle for the idea that the team, led by sluggers Billy Williams and Ron Santo (quite comparable, in their era, to today's Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant), could contend for years to come.
Those fans didn't have the scar tissue we do. But I think we all recognize the foundation that Theo & Co. have built and that this year's core, contending perhaps a year earlier than expected, really can have that long run of contention and playoff appearances that we've dreamed of for decades. Sure, we all want them to make the playoffs this year, since they are in prime position to do so, but I think we also recognize that this isn't a one-off.
So, how do you feel about the current team and the run it's been on? I'm not looking for detailed positional analysis here, but feelings. Have at it.