Chicago Cubs: Now is not the time to hit that panic button

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CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Fans celebrate after the Chicago Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in game four of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Fans celebrate after the Chicago Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in game four of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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Despite a recent slump, the Chicago Cubs remain in the driver’s seat for a third consecutive National League Central division crown with just days to play.

We’ve seen this story before. A sputtering offense filled with talented players all seeming to be pressing at the same time. This has been the case for much of the 2018 season. Up and down the Chicago Cubs lineup, you find inconsistencies. Yet the team always seems to rebound.

The 2018 season has been far from ideal. Between injuries and prolonged offensive slumps, it’s a miracle that this club still sits atop the division with just five games remaining in the regular season. Not only do the Cubs own first place by a half game over the Milwaukee Brewers, but their 91-66 record remains the best in the National League.

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They need their offense to bounce back, like it has all season.

Searching for an offensive catalyst

The Cubs had the division right where they wanted it before the Pirates came to Chicago. However, the offense’s latest spiral into dormancy has cost them their comfort in a division race that’s come down to the wire.

They ran into two hot pitchers in Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer at the worst possible time. Give credit to Pirates right-handers. They executed pitches and kept the Cubs hitters guessing in the first two games of the series.

All year the Cubs have leaned on MVP candidate Javier Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo to bring their offense back to life, and they will need to do so again. Baez’s 110 RBI ranks first in the National League, while Rizzo’s 96 has him eighth among league qualifiers. This Cubs’ offense needs their two top horses to drive in runs and spark rallies over the final five games.

I’ve said it before, this Cubs lineup is too accomplished and too talented to stay asleep for an extended period of time. These five days will be the ultimate test.

Rotation finding its form

Despite the Cubs offensive struggles, the rotation has been solid for the better part of the past month or so. With Mike Montgomery pitching Tuesday, they now have Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Cole Hamels for the most important four game stretch of the season. There’s a comfort in having those guys on the mound when the Cubs’ season is on the line.

During the Month of September, Lester and Hendricks have been carrying the rotation, while Hamels and Quintana have remained solid.

Hendricks is 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA over his past five starts and Lester isn’t too far behind with a 1.90 ERA over that span. These are two guys who have saved their best baseball for high-pressure games in the past three years.

The veteran pedigree and depth of the Cubs rotation will play well for the team going forward. They will give this club a chance to be successful for the final week of the season. But, it’s simply a matter of the Cubs talented hitters showing up for the final five games of the season.

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The Cubs also play one more game than the Brewers, with the Brewers having an off-day on Thursday. They control their own destiny, and Cubs fans should be confident in this group to get the job done.

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