Before the season, I told friends and whoever else asked that all I expected out of this season, not necessarily wanted but expected, is that the Cubs would play meaningful games in September. I didn’t know if they’d get a playoff spot or not back in March, but I expected them to be in the running.
So here we are on September 1st, and the Cubs are certainly playing meaningful games. In fact, they might play non-meaningful games in the last week or two not because they’re out of it, but because they’ll already have a playoff spot wrapped up. I don’t think we saw that coming. So everything from here should be candy to me. I’m getting what I asked for, and should be reveling in it.
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So I hit the road this week again with the Cubs, and if you guessed that’s why they lost their first series in a while, you’re almost certainly right. Still, a winning Cubs team at AT&T Park didn’t seem like a thing to be missed, as there’s no better place to go. So off I went.
I didn’t know what to expect when I got there. On the one hand, the Giants have won three of the past five World Series, and judging on my own obnoxiousness about our very own Blackhawks who have done just about the same thing, I thought it might be a rough ride in a visiting park. On the other, this is still California, where fans just can’t muster up the passion that we do here in the Midwest, because it’s too fucking cold to do anything else. They have so much else to worry about.
The dominating story of the weekend, as it should be, is that Vin Scully is going to return to do Dodgers games for a 67th season next year. He says it’s likely his last, and he deserves whatever farewell tour he deems appropriate (and if I had to guess, he’ll not want one at all). That may mean he makes one last trip to Wrigley Field, which he doesn’t do anymore, and if Cubs coverage is smart they’ll turn over the whole thing to him.
This week’s issue is out. Here’s our Cubs Spotlight on Jason Hammel from this week’s issue:
It hasn’t been the prettiest last 30 days for Jason Hammel. Until his start on Sunday where he finally saw the 7th inning, which had seemed like a Sisyphean task, it had been since July 3rd and seven starts since he’d done so. However, there are a couple mitigating factors in there. In one of those starts he got hurt. The start after that they were awfully careful with him, though he did walk three in five innings. He got a few quick hooks against the Giants and Brewers, and then was rained off the mound against the Tigers, even though he was getting smacked around. So to start where he got hurt and the one after probably aren’t fair to include with the others where his pitches were making very loud noises headed the other way.
It’s probably a bit easy to lose your head about these Cubs during this 15-4 August. During this August where seemingly everyone in the lineup is winning a game at some point, where no deficit at any point causes you to say to yourself anything other than, “Eh, we’ve got this.” So maybe this isn’t the time to do this, because no team is as good as when they are at their hottest. Just as the Cubs weren’t as bad as they were when they got swept by Philly. But I feel like I have to ask the question: Is this the best Cubs team of my lifetime?
It seems a ridiculous question on the surface. This team was merely supposed to be the display model before the ones in the years after assuredly took that title. We were supposed to see the shells of what eventually will be the best Cubs team of our lifetime, but not quite there yet. And it seems silly because likely, you’d think, this team will only win 89 games at the very low end to 95 at the very high.
The best team of my lifetime was 2008’s, which won 97 games. Sorry 2003, but that was an 88-win team that merely got hot at the right time (until it went very cold at the absolute wrong time). I was only three in 1984, so I can’t really count it. We know now the ’89 team was something of a lightning-in-a-bottle, Zimmer’s Dr. Weird act. So really, it’s just a comparison between this year’s and ’08. The results I found to be really surprising.
It’s funny. When your team is mired in a losing streak, you’ll very quickly let someone tell you why it’s not as bad as it looks, as after all no team ever goes 0-162. You’re quite easily buoyed. But it doesn’t go the other way. When the Cubs are in the middle of this ridiculous streak, the last thing you want to hear is that they’re probably not THIS Good. It’s a real challenge to be deflated. In the back of our minds, we know that the Cubs are probably not quite this much of a force. But we won’t listen to that voice until we have to.
Before the season, I said the Cubs would win 88 games. I knew that was on the high side of the optimistic scale. People made sure I knew that as well. Well, now 88 wins would seem… still good, but a little flat? The Cubs merely only have to remain .500 the rest of the way to get to 90 wins. And with games against the Braves, Reds, Phillies (despite whatever that was in July), and Brewers, wouldn’t .500 be the least we should suspect? Where could this end?
It’s at this point that it’s probably a good idea to tell everyone that we should try and come down from this buzz we’re on. If we were all supposed to calm down after the Cubs got swept by the Phillies and stop assuming the season was over, then it would follow they’re not going to win the World Series because they’ve won 13 of 14. But damn it, it’s hard. Because it’s a lot easier to make yourself feel better during a fallow period than it is to try and calm yourself down during the opposite. After all, this is the kind of thing you do this for, these stretches were even the hot, smog-filled city air feels good on your skin.