Chicago Cubs News: The Cubs are winning close games because that's what great teams do

The Chicago Cubs have played in more close games than just about any team in baseball, and they just keep winning.
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The Chicago Cubs have played in their fair share of close games this season. In fact, the numbers would show that they’ve played in far more than their fair share, especially recently. 

If you throw out yesterday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Pirates, the Cubs' last 11 games had been decided by four runs or fewer.

So had 15 of their last 16 and 18 of their last 20.

That is a ton of really close games for a team to have to struggle through, and while I know all of us as fans would love to see more 10-1 games that we can watch without a bottle of Tums in our hand, I’d argue these close games are a good thing.

Playoff baseball is rarely going to be decided by double-digit outcomes. A majority of the time, playoff games are tight and the team that stays focused for the entirety of the game tends to come out on top.

Bullpen

That means a manager has to know which relievers he can trust in big-game situations. Say what you will about David Ross as a manager, he’s found the pieces of the bullpen he trusts and he knows who he’d go to if he needed some tough outs in a playoff game. 

In the playoffs, he won’t have to worry about rest for his relievers as time is built into the schedule so the days of trying to squeeze a little more out of Smyly or Taillon will be behind us as he can turn to a well-rested Leiter Jr., Merryweather, and Alzolay.

At-Bats

Playing in close games also has players aware of how to make the most of every at-bat. The last great Cubs’ teams had power everywhere in the lineup, but rarely had guys that could go up there and make the most of an at-bat. They were extremely boom or bust, and during the season that led to a lot of blowout wins/losses and very few close games. They were talented enough to overcome that lack of close-game experience, but this team won’t have to. 

Mike Tauchman, Dansby Swanson, Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger, all of these guys don’t let pitchers off the hook. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first at-bat or an at-bat in the bottom of the sixth inning, they are the same guy when they step into the batter’s box and that requires the opposing pitching staff to consistently be on top of their game in a way that very few teams or players have the ability to be. 

These guys are used to high-leverage at-bats and while they struggled in April and May, they’ve figured it out and there is not a lineup I’d rather have going into tightly-contested games in October than the one the Cubs have.  

Defense

It’s very easy in a 162-game season to find yourself having a lapse in thought on a routine grounder or a fly ball. Defense is a part of every game and a magnifying glass is put upon it when that game is close. 

Good teams play good defense and great teams play good defense all the time. The Cubs seem to fall into the latter. When the Cubs reach the playoffs later this season and they’ve played close, meaningful baseball for three months there will not be a team that is more locked in on the field than they are.

When you have pitchers that can pitch to contact a little bit, it’s crucial that your defenders are constantly on top of it. This is a team that already featured Gold Gloves for their shortstop, catcher, center fielder, and left fielder (and could potentially add their second baseman to that list this season), so I like that they’ve had to play tight games and avoid mistakes.

Conclusion

The best teams win close games. Blowouts are nice for the blood pressure, but the Cubs have proven in the month of August that they are one of the best teams in baseball and I can’t wait to see what that means when we get to October. Hopefully, we’ll still be singing Go Cubs Go after a close win in November.

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