CHICAGO -- As August winds down, the Cubs are entering the homestretch of the 2017 season. With only 41 games remaining on the Cubs schedule, the season is turning from a marathon into a final sprint. With the division still up in the air, the Cubs are doing what they can to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the Central. The Cubs have held first place since they went on a tear which saw them surpass the Brewers, who had held onto a 5.5 game lead at the All-Star break.
The Cubs have recently not been playing at the level they were immediately after the break, but have done enough to keep themselves in the driver’s seat for the division. In August they have gone back to playing .500 baseball, but this coming after the loss of catcher Willson Contreras. In Contreras’ absence, the Cubs have dipped but stayed above water. The injuries have not stopped with Contreras, as ace Jon Lester has also been sent to the disabled list with lat soreness. Losing Lester for any amount of time is a tough break, but they should still have enough to close out the season. The Cubs have been aided lately by the consistently strong play of Jon Jay and the hot bat and stellar defense of Javier Baez, or ‘El Mago’ as his fitting nickname labels him. Kris Bryant has been playing like an MVP again and Jake Arrieta has shown great improvement as he enters his push for a new long-term contract. The Cubs advantages in this race also go past their influx of talent, they now have the experience of being a champion.
This may be unchartered territory for Cubs fans, but the 2017 Cubs will be looking to use history as an ally. The Cubs have been plagued for a lifetime as a team carrying a burden of an organization that couldn’t win. This team, for the first time, is playing baseball with no such burden. They have the ability to go into the final 40 games and play for a division without listening to talks of cursed billy goats and foul balls. They have proven that they are winners and they can compete at the highest level. As young as many of these starters are, they have been members of a winning team for almost their entire careers. Many on the current roster had been added to the Cubs in 2015 or later. In that stretch from 2015-2016, the Cubs won around 200 games, went to two National League Championship Series and won a World Series. As odd as it seems based on the history of this organization, the majority this Cubs roster only knows winning. It is that knowledge and proven success which should still instill hope and confidence with Cubs fans.
The Cubs have flipped the script on the rest of the division, making themselves the clear team to hurdle if another team wants to play in October. The Brewers have shown huge strides this year, but are still trying to build the pillars of a championship level team. As much as Cubs fans fear the history the Cardinals have, recent history is a check mark in the Cubs favor. The Cubs defeated them in the playoffs in 2015 and went on in 2016 to finish 17 games ahead of them in the standings as the Cardinals failed to even make the playoffs. While of course, past success guarantees nothing, the experience is still invaluable when playing must win games.
Undoubtedly, at some point the randomness of baseball will take over and make things difficult for the Cubs and every other team; however, there is nothing that can be thrown at them they haven’t seen. They played with the intensity of a single-game wild card round which they won and then faced-off head to head with the Cardinals and beat them. The next season on route to a championship, they scored four ninth inning runs to eliminate the San Francisco Giants, overpowered the Los Angeles Dodgers to claim the pennant and overcame a 3-1 series deficit to force a game 7 of the World Series. We all know what happened from there, and it’s fairly safe to say any Cub who played in that game will be prepared for anything that could happen this year. As the Cubs play out the rest of August and roll into September, the task is simple: win and get in. While the 2017 Cubs team is still looking to write its own narrative, the experience and confidence they have gained the past couple seasons should only make them a stronger team.
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