Chicago Cubs: A long, albeit eventful journey back to October
By Jake Misener
After a top-to-bottom rebuild, the Chicago Cubs are headed back to the postseason after a San Francisco Giants’ loss eliminated the reigning champions from contention.
Starlin Castro‘s ninth-inning triple in front of 40,000-plus at Wrigley Field set the stage for a celebration that the North Side of Chicago hasn’t seen in years. Against the division-rival Pirates, the Cubs had a shot to tie the game and send it into extras, giving them a chance to punch their postseason ticket in front of the home faithful.
But, sadly, it just wasn’t meant to be.
The league’s top closer, Mark Melancon, set down both Jorge Soler and Javier Baez on breaking balls out of the zone to end the late threat, leaving Chicago’s magic number at one. However, thanks to the Oakland Athletics’ handing the Giants a loss late last night, October baseball is once again in the Cubs’ vocabulary.
After working a 12-plus hour shift at one of the busiest airports in the world on Friday, I admittedly went to sleep before the Giants-A’s game went final. Waking up Saturday and seeing countless notifications about the Cubs’ clinching of a playoff berth left me in a weird place.
To be frank, it probably still hasn’t fully hit me.
The last time Chicago saw postseason action, I was a month-plus into my senior year of high school. I remember heading to Homecoming festivities with the Cubs trailing the Dodgers in Game 3 -€“ furious that for the second-straight year, we were headed home without so much as a single notch in our proverbial postseason belt.
It was a little over a year later that I joined FanSided as a staff writer for this very site, Cubbies Crib. I worked my way up through the ranks, seeing a new ownership group come in, the hiring of Theo Epstein and the overhaul of both Wrigley Field and the roster.
And now, it’s all paid off.
Chicago has gone from a perennial bottom feeder whose peak excitement came in the June amateur draft, where talent like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber entered the system, to a team that is clearly one of the most dangerous teams in the postseason mix.
Led by the offensive exploits of Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and a pitching staff anchored by Jon Lester and ace Jake Arrieta, the Cubs have plenty of pieces to like â€“ that is, if they can get through either the Cardinals or Bucs in the Wild Card game on Oct. 7.
Pirates ace Gerrit Cole shut the Cubs’ lineup down on Friday, pulling Pittsburgh one game closer to the first-place Cardinals, who have just a three-game edge in the Central â€“ with a three-game series between the two clubs set for the coming week at PNC Park.
So why does this matter for Chicago? It will decide which club the Cubs will battle in that high-stakes play-in game in a week-and-a-half. Whether Joe Maddon‘s club takes the field at Busch Stadium or in the Steel City, which has seen its team play in each of the previous two NL Wild Card contests, to mixed results.
There are pros and cons to each outcome, but once October hits â€“ it’s not about who is on the other side of the diamond that matters, but what you bring with you to the field.
What makes the Cubs so dangerous? The same things that make the other two NL Central clubs legitimate World Series contenders: a mix of youth and veteran talent, one of the best managers in the game and a front office that is unrivaled in the game today.
Oh, and fans that are hungry for a taste of October glory – and Cubs fans are hungrier than most.
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