Is it weird that the Braves came into Monday as the only NL team with a division series spot locked up despite having the worst record of the league’s five postseason participants? Well, yeah, but them’s the breaks when baseball decides to baseball.
No one knows that better than the Cubs, who had to survive the do-or-die game in 2015 even though they’d battled to the third-best record in all of baseball that year. And they faced the Pirates, who had the second-best mark.
Given all they’ve gone through as a collective, both this season and those in the recent past, it’s no wonder they’re not worried about either Monday’s tiebreaker or the Wild Card that awaits if they lose.
“When it comes down to it, we’re in the playoffs,” Jon Lester told the Athletic’s Jon Greenberg (subscription required). “We’re in the playoffs. Anything can happen. Kansas City won the World Series winning the wild card game. It’s been done, it’s gonna be done. I think people around here are ready to jump off bridges about us just getting into the playoffs and not winning the division. So I mean, the playoffs are the playoffs.”
Hard to argue with that sage logic. Not that fans are prone to logic or are going to take things any easier, particularly if that one-and-done contest becomes a reality. Then we can ready ourselves for more fallacious claims of a Cubs choke job, which simply isn’t true.
Could the Cubs have played better? Yes. Were there some games in subsequent months that seemed worthless at the time but loom large now? Also yes. But did the Brewers catch fire and win nine of 10 to force this tie? Yup.
What is true is that the Cubs have been built up to the point that everyone expects them to win every season. And when they don’t do so running away, even allowing their rivals to catch them at the end, people have a hard time coming to grips with it.
“I mean, expectations are great,” Lester opined. “If you don’t have expectations, then it’s probably going to be a miserable year. That means you’re supposed to probably finish last. So I love expectations, but I also feel you have to be realistic about things sometimes and realize a baseball season is a long year and there’s a lot of things you can’t control. All you can control is showing up and playing. We’ve done that.”
You can’t control season-ending injuries or scheduling snafus or having Wade Miley and Jhoulys Chacin suddenly develop into a legit 1-2 punch. You can’t control Kris Bryant banging up his shoulder on an awkward slide. You can’t control the weather…unless you’re Tom Skilling.
What the Cubs can control, and what Joe Maddon has proven to be a master of manipulating, is their emotional level. They don’t get too high or too low, nor do they deny either the pressure or the pleasure of the given situation. Though Dusty Baker probably gets a worse rap than he deserves, one thing I could never forgive him for was his failure to embrace the weight of history and expectation. Heck, he outright denied it.
Prior to winning the World Series, this Cubs team knew full well how much it meant to the city and their fans. The players didn’t shy away from that, they owned it. And by so doing, they were able to throw from their shoulders the same yoke that had weighed down other great teams before them.
After being down 3-1 and coming back to win, you think the prospect of a Wild Card game is going to throw them? Nah, not one bit. Now let’s just hope those bats wake up again and we don’t need to worry about how not worried the Cubs are.