The Cubs clinched the NL Central Saturday night in the middle of a loss, which is so 2020.
If I had told any of you that the Chicago Cubs would be crowned NL Central Champs on September 26 way back in February, everyone would have assumed David Ross’ first year as skipper of the Cubs went about as flawlessly as possible. We also would have assumed that the young core had phenomenal years as they marched into their prime.
Fast forward to September 26, and the Cubs are Central Champs, but the way we’ve gotten here… wow, this has been nothing short of bizarre, unorthodox, and surreal. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate it and be excited, given the circumstances we’ve faced and the adversity MLB and the Cubs have faced- it’s no small miracle we even got through a “season.”
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First obstacle: the fact we’ve had a season is unbelievable. First off, it didn’t appear MLB and MLBPA would ever iron out a plan and arrangement that would work for both sides to get players back on the field. Then, the Blue Jays weren’t even allowed in their home park and had to scramble to figure out if they could even play anywhere.
Next, testing in the initial days of “Summer Training” and even into the season was inconsistent and frustratingly spotty. COVID-19 outbreaks on several teams put the season and plan in serious jeopardy and threatened to make a mockery of scheduling and the integrity of the game.
But, after a couple of weeks, it seemed like most teams got the hint, buckled down, created insular team bubbles, and we got through this 60 game sprint with relatively minor incidents in the grand scheme. The Cubs were praised early on for their ability to do this, something that has to be attributed to the leadership and makeup of the organization- both at the top and all the way down to the players.
It probably wasn’t fun to play without fans and not leave the team hotel on the road, but the sacrifices made by the team mirrored those made all over America. Life has changed, but to cling to some semblance of normalcy, new protocols must be adhered to. The Cubs did it better than anyone en route to this Central crown.
They also overcame a scrapheap bullpen that looked like an absolute dumpster fire way back in July and August. For a long time, Jeremy Jeffress and Rowan Wick looked like the only guys the Cubs shouldn’t jettison off the party boat into Lake Michigan. Craig Kimbrel looked like he’d never regained even mediocre form, let alone the elite form he’s gotten back to here in the last month.
Ross also had to contend with a rotation that never really got much of anything from its number three or four starter in Jose Quintana. And, while Tyler Chatwood looked phenomenal out of the gates, injuries got the best of him as well, and Ross had to make it work with Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Colin Rea, and Tyson Miller.
On to the ridiculous baseball-related issue during the Cubs inexplicable 2020 season. They were able to win the Central without any position player other than Ian Happ and Jason Heyward having a good season. That’s right- if I had told you that every position player other than those two would have a bad year, you’d have signed up for a third-place behind the Reds and Cards.
Instead, most of the middle of the order hitters for the Cubs are still hovering around the Mendoza line is almost an afterthought as the Cubs head into the playoffs, especially after the Cubs played Home Run Derby against the White Sox on Friday night to break out of hibernation.
Per the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it’s been. With any more luck, there’ll be plenty more baseball and an even longer, stranger trip into the NLCS and World Series.
Maybe that trip will even feature a rematch of this weekend’s series against the crosstown rivals.