Chicago Cubs: It’s more than hope now on the North Side


After splitting a series with the Pirates and sweeping the Giants, the Chicago Cubs have shown that they’re not just a wishful contender – they’re for real.

The results from the past week shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. The Chicago Cubs entered the week strongly in the race for the last wild card spot, despite the offensive struggles that had dogged them recently.

After splitting a rain-shortened series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs returned home with the ability to dictate their own destiny. It’s clear from the way Joe Maddon has managed these games that the win-now mentality has taken over.

Although Starlin Castro represents the first wave that arrived at Wrigley Field, his frustration and bad play left Maddon no choice but to look for an alternative.

Castro, a three-time All-Star, has been much improved in terms of saying the right things and showing a more mature approach to the game. But despite his good intentions, as the calendar flipped to August, it became apparent that he needed to take a back seat on this ride.

I, personally, haven’t given up on Castro just yet. After all he is still a kid compared to many of his colleagues  around the league. Benching him was simply the right thing to do at the time.

The Cubs opened the weekend series with a 5-4 win over the Giants. What you won’t see in the box score was a win for Jason Hammel. It wasn’t because he got hammered by the opposing hitters, or because he didn’t have control of his pitches. Aside from the scare late in the game, the Cubs never trailed.

Maddon made the decision to pull Hammel in the fourth inning in order to preserve the early lead they established. In that moment, and with the momentum of the series in limbo, pulling the veteran right-hander with the lead was the right thing to do. It provided the Cubs with the best chance to win and showed the youngsters what a playoff atmosphere feels like.

The sacrifices needed to win in this league can bring a team together. In the midst of this magnificent run the ball club has built, everyone in that clubhouse knows they need to be ready when their number is called.

The Cubs have closed out games with four different players recording a save of-late. Bullpen-by-committees usually are reserved for teams that are struggling and in need of a spark; but with Maddon’s club, this has hardly been the case.

The player-friendly skipper has displayed an awareness for the situation more than once during the team’s hot stretch. Take the end of Saturday’s game for instance.

Up late in the eighth inning, Maddon chose to have Hector Rondon pitch. Rondon, who had been re-establishing himself as closer, went out an inning early because the Giants had three straight righties due up.

In that instant, everyone knew that the save for that game came in the eighth, rather than the ninth.

It’s getting too late in the year to feel like this is a fluke. The Cubs are legitimate contenders and are positioning themselves quite nicely heading into the dog days of summer. This is the future, this is now, this is what Chicago Cubs baseball is redefining itself as.

And just remember, they’re not even supposed to be ready until 2017.

Next: Lester starting to settle into ace role for Chicago