After suffering their first sweep of the season at home, expectations for this Chicago Cubs team should be tampered as the playoffs have become a question mark.
Things had been moving in such a positive direction for the Chicago Cubs. A series win on the road for the first time in three months, and a sweep of a borderline wild card team in the San Francisco Giants had this team ready to get really hot. But, as it seems like we have had all year, another setback occurred, as the Nationals came into town and walked out with a sweep of their own.
Now it’s back to the drawing board, as the Cubs find themselves 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the division while clinging on to a 1 1/2 game lead for the second wild-card spot. With the crowded race and loads of youth helping teams get hot, the Cubs need to focus on finding a way to keep things afloat, to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
That last sentence is hard to believe, but October baseball has become a common occurrence for the Cubs, and we have taken it for granted. The expectation has been World Series or bust for most, but that mindset should shift (for the fans), and we should find joy in this team working towards another postseason berth.
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This series against the Nationals was another example of how this team seems so close, yet so far at times from finding that next level and getting hot. Sure, Washington is 49-24 since June 1, which is good for the best record in all of baseball, but that’s no excuse for them coming into Wrigley and letting them leave without a scratch.
The Cubs missed Willson Contreras this series, along with Anthony Rizzo on Sunday, and it felt like if we had at least one of them for the finale, the sweep is most certainly avoided. But that’s the thing. We can attribute struggles to injury, but every team has injuries to overcome, and this group has to center around the “next man up” philosophy.
It’s easy to say things will get better once this team gets fully healthy, but with 30 games left in the season, it’s go time. Who inside the clubhouse, other than Nicholas Castellanos, is going to take this team and put it on their back?
The Cardinals and Nationals are two teams who exemplify the idea of “next man up,” and it’s no coincidence these are the two teams the Cubs are currently chasing. The Nationals own the second-worst bullpen ERA, ahead of only the Orioles, but yet have the best record in baseball since June 1. Just the like Cubs 25-39 record on the road, it doesn’t make any sense.
The Cardinals, who notably made zero acquisitions at the trade deadline, have opened up a 2 ½ game lead in the division with a record of 14-9 since July 31. This team could have benefited from an addition or two, and there was a lot of frustration when the front office didn’t reward the team’s solid play with another arm or bat. But they’ve moved past that and now control their own destiny.
Both these teams recognize their shortcomings and have worked around them as guys inside the clubhouse have stepped up in significant ways. It is ultimately bringing their respective groups closer as they find ways to win games. Sure, Theo Epstein signed some duds this past offseason, but since then, he has given the Cubs everything on their wishlist. With all of the help they need, why is it that two teams with more apparent flaws are pulling away from them in the postseason race?
The Cubs need to dig into their hard of hearts as we enter the home stretch in the 2019 season. The future of this organization largely depends on what happens the rest of the way, and if the Chicago Cubs don’t band together, this team may get blown up this winter. I believe in this group and always will, but they need to dig down deep and start playing their best baseball before it’s too late.