The recent trend has seen a lot of commentators, including those at the national level, showing a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea of the Cubs reaching the playoffs. Indeed, “a great deal of enthusiasm” may be soft-peddling it. Even seasoned baseball reporters have been treating the idea of Chicago making the postseason with the same level of ecstasy as a kitten on its back clawing at a string being dangled above its head. You’d think they’d never seen the Cubs in the playoffs before.
In fact, they have–as recently as 2007. Not exactly the Blue Jays there. Furthermore, the big problem with all this delight is the fact that it might very well be premature: there’s a good chance the Cubs won’t make it into the playoffs at all.
That’s why the beatdowns put upon the Cubs by the Tigers these last two nights are most welcome, and hopefully a source of some much needed perspective.
The Cubs may have some cushion (3.5 games as of this writing) on the Giants for the second Wild Card position, but they will have to go to San Francisco for three games next week. Chicago is wildly unlikely to sweep those games, and if they don’t take at least two out of the three, the Giants may be right back to breathing down their necks.
Of course, the Giants will be playing four against the Pirates in Pittsburgh starting Thursday, so they’re not on Easy Street by any stretch of the imagination. But the Cubs have a much bigger Pirates problem: not only are they chasing Pittsburgh in the Wild Card slotting, but they still have six more games against the Bucs in September–not to mention six more games against the Cardinals as well. After next week the Giants are finished with all three Central teams, and only have to deal with NL West rivals and a couple of dregs (A’s, Reds) the rest of the way. Given that Pittsburgh may still hope to catch the Cardinals in the division, their best bet for doing so will be to pound on the Cubs–and the Bucs can do that. Trust me.
So the schedule is not nearly as conducive as everyone seems to believe. But there’s more in Chicago’s way that who they play; there’s also the problem of themselves.
I don’t mean that in a “they’re the Cubs” way (although such considerations are always operative). Chicago’s biggest problem may lie in their reliance on a lot of very young players. Young guys can be great; hugely talented players sometimes roll in for their rookie stretch and come up big against major competition for the first time. But young players also have a tendency to fall into slumps that they can’t get out of. While all is well, all will be well; but if any of that young talent starts struggling, they might tailspin right out of the playoff picture.
They’re flying high right now, but everybody needs to relax. The groceries aren’t in the kitchen just yet.