3 reasons to be optimistic - 1. Overall Strength of Schedule
We've mentioned the Rockies and Pirates already, but what about those two big series on the road against the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers? It seems daunting to flip the switch to automatic this week and then carry it into a hostile atmosphere on the road against two of the National League's best teams. On the contrary, those two remaining series may prove to be a blessing in disguise, and here's why:
A 162-game season is the longest in sports. Thankfully, the Braves have all but locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They will do so with any luck this week, as they are set to face off against the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals. Assuming the Dodgers don't sweep the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants, the Braves have a solid chance to lock it up before they face the Cubs next week in Atlanta. If this is the case, it's easy to envision a scenario where the Braves have nothing to play for and rest key players over the last week of the season.
Flipping to the Milwaukee series, they, too, will be in a position where they can't catch the Dodgers for the #2 seed and ultimately won't be able to control who they face in the Wild Card series. They will only refrain from resting players against the Cubs at the end of the year if they decide to try to knock their Division rivals out of the playoffs. But if what is stated above comes to fruition, they may not have a choice and ultimately rest some of their guys.
Nevertheless, the Cubs still control their fate. Next, the Cubs play the Pirates and the Rockies. The Diamondbacks and Giants fight for position, clashing against each other. That series is great because either neither gains ground, or one team wins, and the other is pushed way back, separating themselves from the rest of the Wild Card pack. The Reds play the Twins next, who are looking to clinch the AL Central this week. The Marlins face the Mets, who have been playing better, taking a four-game series against the Diamondbacks, then narrowly losing a series to the Reds. After that, Miami plays Milwaukee, who wants to lock up the NL Central as soon as possible.
The Cubs have made it tighter than anyone wanted, but here they are. A team brimming with hope to clinch a postseason berth. If it should happen, they must immediately put the last week behind them and remember their identity. This organization has come a long way in the past two seasons, and it's time to press the accelerator for the final push... Scratch that... It's time to floor it.