Here’s a well-known baseball phrase: “Act like you’ve been there before.”
This applies both to the Chicago Cubs and us as fans, I think.
For the second time in the last decade, the Cubs have made the postseason in consecutive seasons. That’s good!
Not so good is the way they exited the postseason in each of the previous three years, twice by sweeps in the division series, once in an NLCS sweep.
Last year’s sweep at the hands of the New York Mets should be viewed as an educational experience for the players. This very young Cubs team has both the experience of winning a playoff series, something no Cubs team had done since 2003, and feeling how it is not only to lose one, but be thoroughly dominated.
No doubt, they will act like they’ve been there before.
In advance of all the playoff hoopla beginning Friday, though, please take a moment, or a few, to reflect on the six months of amazing baseball we have just witnessed. I thought I had seen the best Cubs team of my lifetime a year ago, but the 2016 Cubs blew that club away with its amazing 47-20 start which included another Jake Arrieta no-hitter, and then nearly matching that 47-20 start (51-23) after looking like the worst team in baseball for three weeks (5-15 just before the All-Star break).
You know all the marks and records this team has set, as I posted quite a few of them here just a couple of days ago. Many of those marks had not been accomplished in decades, or a century, or ever. Not only are the 2016 Cubs the best Cubs team of my lifetime, they are one of the best in franchise history, a history that goes back 140 years to the beginning of the National League in 1876.
Nothing can take away from the greatness of the last six months of Cubs baseball. However, and you might think this somewhat controversial, I believe this season will be a failure if the Cubs do not at least get to the World Series. They need to take the next step. If they get there and lose -- well, that happens, even to great teams. But they need to be playing an American League team on October 25, in my view, to validate the 2016 season as a success.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. In 1969, when the team that coulda, shoulda, but didn’t, thrilled us for five months before collapsing, the Cubs’ World Series-winning drought was 62 years.
Now the drought of not even getting to the World Series is eight years longer than that. Consider this: when the just-retired Vin Scully began broadcasting Dodgers games, it had been only five years since the Cubs had last been in a World Series.
Sobering, no? (That’s likely the last time I’ll refer to the drought, especially because Fox and TBS are likely going to remind everyone about it every three seconds this month.)
The Cubs came close last year with no expectations, and just got beat by a better team that shut them down with outstanding pitching.
Going into spring training, then, the expectations were higher especially after the free-agent signings of Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey. The “window” to win had officially opened, and Joe Maddon set out to put his charges in the right frame of mind with his “Embrace The Target” T-shirt slogan. (I bought one of those, and you could too; some of the proceeds go to Maddon’s “Respect 90” foundation.)
Embrace it they did, all year, with gusto. This team refuses to let itself lose and they have strong and likeable player-leaders. Winning, of course, makes most any team likeable, but this year’s Cubs seem to not only have extremely talented players, but extremely high-character guys. And that talent is likely to get the team some postseason hardware again, particularly an MVP award for Kris Bryant. The most important piece of hardware, though, is the one we hope the team is hoisting later this month. (Remember, Lackey said he came here for jewelry.)
That’s credit to Theo & Co. for finding these guys and putting together this team, and to Maddon for having just the right touch with them as a manager, both off the field and on. Though he had no connection to Chicago growing up or as a player or coach before coming here, Maddon seems to “get it” better than anyone I’ve seen manage the Cubs in my lifetime, about what this franchise means to all of us, what Wrigley Field and its history means, and what winning it all will mean. Remember when he offered to buy drinks for all the media covering him at his introductory press conference? I’m pretty sure Joe would buy every one of us a celebratory World Series drink when the Cubs win, if he could. That’s just who he is, or seems to be, anyway.
So we begin, Friday against the Giants. It won’t be easy. The postseason never is, no matter how good you are in the regular season. Only four teams with the best regular-season mark have won the World Series in the 21 season since the wild-card era began (1998 Yankees, 2007 Red Sox, 2009 Yankees, 2013 Red Sox).
Let’s make that five, shall we? Go Cubs, and enjoy the ride over the next few weeks. And don’t forget to act like you’ve been there before.