What if I had told you the following things on March 28, 2019?
- Three of the Cubs’ five starting pitchers would spend significant time on the injured list
- And so would Willson Contreras
- Brandon Morrow would not throw a single pitch the entire season
- Four of the eight Opening Day relievers would be completely out of the organization by September 10
- Daniel Descalso would be an utter bust and after May 5 would hit .101/.217/.127
- The Cubs would have to call up Nico Hoerner to play shortstop because they literally had no other choice, and Javier Baez would miss almost all of September
- The best hitter on the team after the All-Star break wouldn’t even be in the organization until July 31
... well, I could go on, but you get the idea. There are a lot of names on this list who aren’t around now:
Anyway, if I had told you on that date that all of that would happen you’d probably have thought this would be a “collapse” season, a year contending teams sometimes have even in the middle of good runs. That looks like a 90-plus loss team with all of those things going down, doesn’t it? The Boston Red Sox won 97 games and the World Series in 2013. The next year they lost 91 games. It happens.
And yet, despite all those things I mentioned actually happening — and I probably left a few out — the 2019 Chicago Cubs are still in contention for the postseason and have a reasonably good chance to win the N.L. Central.
The Cubs have gotten contributions from Nicholas Castellanos, an acquisition in perhaps the best deadline deal of 2019. They’ve gotten contributions from Craig Kimbrel, who, despite some troubles and a current stint on the IL, leads the team in saves. They got a fantastic debut game from Nico Hoerner, who had all of 464 professional plate appearances before Monday. They’ve even had some positive contributions from Tyler Chatwood, who was beyond awful in 2018.
I guess my point here is: Don’t give up. This team hasn’t, and they have played that way ever since Joe Maddon took over as manager in 2015. That’s one of the best qualities Maddon has imparted to this franchise, the idea of never giving up.
There are lots of teams who have blown leads this late in the year. You’re quite familiar with one of them, last year’s Cubs. You’d probably rather forget this, but the Cubs had a 2½-game lead last year with seven games left, a magic number of six. I’ll spare you the rest.
Here are a few others.
The famous 1964 Phillies had a 6½-game lead with 12 games remaining, lost 10 in a row (the first of which was an excruciating 1-0 loss where the winning run scored on a steal of home) and finished second. Incidentally, if the woeful Mets had defeated the Cardinals on the last day of that season, it would have forced a three-way tie, since St. Louis finished one game ahead of both Philadelphia and Cincinnati. But the Cardinals won that game 11-5, winning the pennant — after having lost to the Mets the previous two days.
The 1987 Blue Jays had a 3½-game lead with seven games remaining and were three outs from making it 4½ with six to go. Kirk Gibson hit the second most famous home run of his career to tie the game leading off the ninth. The Tigers beat the Jays in 13, and Toronto did not win another game. The Tigers defeated the Jays the last day of the season, 1-0, when Toronto had to win to force a tie.
The 2007 Mets had a 7½-game lead with 17 left, a magic number of 10. They went 5-12 and lost on the last day of the season, when they had to win to force a tie. Instead, the Phillies won the N.L. East.
So while the Cardinals’ four-game lead this year with 19 remaining seems large, bigger leads than that have been blown with less time left. The Cubs still have seven games remaining against St. Louis, beginning with four at Wrigley Field starting a week from Thursday — and the Cubs haven’t lost to the Cardinals at Wrigley this year (6-0).
I don’t have any real over-arching point here, just a note that I’m still optimistic about the rest of this year and I hope you are too. Perhaps the Cubs can give us one of those late-September runs we used to see other teams have against them.