Chicago Cubs have become the ‘hunters’, instead of the ‘hunted’

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

In 2018, the Chicago Cubs entered the month of September with a 3 1/2 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

Despite winning the first two games of the month and opening up the lead to five games, the team’s offense collapsed down the stretch. The Chicago Cubs lost a deciding Game 163 to the Brewers before the Colorado Rockies ended their season at Wrigley Field in the NL Wild Card game.

The 2019 season is already providing a far different story line.

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Chicago is currently 2 1/2 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the Central, and they have gone from being the “hunted” in the division to the “hunters.”

Yet for a team that has been under a microscope all season, this is an ideal situation for the Cubs.

No room for complacency

When the Rockies beat the Cubs on their home field last October, there was a real feeling of despondency and utter frustration in the clubhouse.

Javier Baez, Jon Lester and Theo Epstein all indicated that the team may have grown a little too comfortable in being a powerhouse in the National League over the course of the last three seasons.

But this Cubs team cannot merely lean on prior successes. Epstein and the rest of the fan base is demanding more from this club. Theo and Jed Hoyer have made it clear that they will not be afraid to shake things up, starting with Joe Maddon.

Particularly considering that the Cubs have already experienced the anguish of defeat in a one-game playoff, there should be some intrinsic motivation to steal the division away from the Cardinals. Otherwise, there is a real chance that heads could roll this winter.

Becoming whole again

Tuesday night’s win over the Seattle Mariners was a big occasion for the Cubs. Not because of the quality of opponent – the Mariners are dead-last in the AL West – but because both Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras returned to action with a flurry.

Zobrist reached base twice from the leadoff spot (where the Cubs have sorely been lacking in production) and scored a pair of runs, while Contreras homered and reached base three times.

Both players have the potential to add immense value to a Chicago team with a lot to prove in the final month. Zobrist brings a measured veteran presence and added depth, while Contreras brings unbridled intensity and another run-producing bat in the middle of the Cubs lineup.

The Cardinals had been slightly dinged up in June and the early part of July, but they have grown stronger as they have gotten healthier, culminating with an 18-9 record in August.

Meanwhile, the Cubs are just now starting to feel complete again. Of course, Baez and Kris Bryant need to be healthy for the stretch run, but Chicago has a great chance to make a run with all of the pieces intact.

Entering October with momentum?

Not only will September be a proving ground and a testament to the resolve of this Cubs team, but also a chance to pick up some serious steam heading into October.

The Cubs won 95 games last season, and yet they entered the Wild Card game with absolutely no momentum and were out of the playoffs in a flash.

Next. September call-ups ready for high-leverage situations?. dark

These last 24 games are as much an opportunity for the Cubs to show that they can make some noise in the playoffs as they are about catching the Cardinals, and that may be even more important.