This is such recent history that you no doubt remember the sequence well.
The Cubs had nine postponed games in 2018, resulting in a schedule crunch in August and September. The team’s last scheduled off day was August 20, and after that they played 41 games (including the tiebreaker against the Brewers and the wild-card game against the Rockies) in 43 days, the only “off” days coming with two rainouts in Washington. That resulted in the team having to fly from Chicago to Washington to Chicago within a 36-hour period — and there play an extra-inning game in which Pedro Strop was injured running the bases.
That wasn’t all that happened during that six-week stretch, but you get the idea. It’s remarkable, actually, that the Cubs managed to hold on to first place alone for that entire period — in fact, they had held sole possession since August 1 — until the second-to-last day of the regular season when they lost to the Cardinals.
The Cubs’ record from August 20 through the end of the regular season was 24-15, which isn’t bad — it’s a .615 winning percentage which would be a 100-win season in a 162-game schedule. But the Brewers went 26-10 and overtook the Cubs.
It’s been said many times that the Cubs didn’t so much blow their lead as the Brewers got hot and won it, and there’s some truth to that.
But what if the Cubs turned just one of those 15 losses into a win? There are quite a few games during that stretch that could easily have been won if the Cubs could have just hit, and that’s a theme that carried over into 2019 and 2020.
The Cubs lost four games 2-1 during that stretch and two of them were to the awful Tigers (98 losses that year) and Reds (95 losses). If the Cubs turn any one of those four into a victory, they win 96 games and are NL Central champions outright, without having to play a tiebreaker game.
What are some of the things that could have happened if the Cubs had done that?
The Cubs get three days off before they have to begin a division series
Given how exhausted the team was after that 43-day stretch, three days would have seemed like a lifetime. They could have completely re-set their starting rotation, hitters would have had a break, relievers would have been completely rested.
Remember too, that the Cubs would have had the best record in the NL and would have had home field throughout the NL playoffs.
The Cubs would possibly have played an exhausted team in the division series
Remember, the Rockies had to play the Dodgers in a tiebreaker as well, which they lost before coming to Wrigley Field to play the Cubs. If Colorado wins the wild-card game over the Brewers, the Cubs would have played a tired Rockies ballclub that would have had to travel from Denver to Los Angeles to Milwaukee to Chicago in a four-day period. In real life the Rockies got swept by the Brewers in their division series.
Or if the Brewers then win that wild-card game, the Cubs host Milwaukee. The Cubs were 11-9 vs. the Brewers in 2018, but 6-3 at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs might have won the NLCS against the Dodgers
The Dodgers weren’t quite the team in 2018 that they were in 2017. They had to win their last three regular-season games and a tiebreaker with Colorado to be division champions. While they certainly were still a strong team — and did eventually get to the World Series — perhaps a rested Cubs team could have given them a good NLCS. The Brewers pushed LA to the brink in a Game 7.
Joe Maddon might have gotten a contract extension
If the Cubs get to the NLCS for a fourth straight year — whether they win it or not — there would have been significant clamoring for him to stick around. Maybe he’s still here in 2021.
One win. That’s all it might have taken in September 2018 to significantly alter the direction of the franchise.