Commentary: The time to win is now


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Mark Rebilas - USA Today Sports
Mark Rebilas - USA Today Sports

CHICAGO -- All the waiting is over; the time fans have been awaiting is here, playoff baseball is entering Chicago. Easy baseball is over; there aren’t anymore chances to ‘get them tomorrow’ or rest up for the following series. The time to win is now. The Cubs are entering their first playoff series, albeit in September. The Milwaukee Brewers are coming to town this weekend and the two teams will play a three game set which will go far in deciding which team will represent the National League Central in October.

Yes, this isn’t a playoff series, but it might as well be. The Cubs have won consecutive games now to put themselves in command of the division. They lead the division by five games over both the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals with 22 games left on the schedule. The Cubs have brought their magic number --amount of combined Cubs wins and Brewers/Cardinal losses needed to clinch the playoffs-- to only 18. The Cubs still have two series each against the Brewers and Cardinals. The Cubs have forced the Brewers to assign their top three starters to face the Cubs this week, sending out pitchers Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, and Zach Davies. The Cubs will counter with John Lackey, Mike Montgomery, and Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs may wipe out the Brewers playoff chances this weekend. After allowing them to hang around for as long as they have, it is time to shut the door. Despite facing the top of the Brewers rotation, there is little doubt the Cubs will be approaching each at bat as if they’re facing Clayton Kershaw with one win remaining from the World Series. As Cubs fans are aware, that scenario worked out pretty well the last time. Facing each at bat with playoff intensity is not overstating the situation, it is the beauty of a pennant race.

The key to winning this series is simple, keep the Brewers in Wrigley and off of Waveland. The Brewers are second in the National League in home runs but tied for second to last in batting average. The Brewers have also struggled to put the ball in play, leading the NL in strikeouts by a wide margin. They walk a bit, but not enough to outweigh their strikeouts. So for Cubs pitching the strategy should be simple, if you keep the Brewers in the park, they struggle to put up runs.

The fact is for the Cubs, anything other than being swept will leave them in a decent position to stay ahead of the Brewers. Even dropping two out of the three would leave the Cubs four games ahead with 19 left. If the Cubs can win this series, they will take full control of the division race. They are already in the driver’s seat, so why not throw everyone else out of the car? After this series, they still have another round against the Brewers and two series left against the Cardinals. A solid weekend and the Cubs can turn their full attention to the Cardinals and then taking the division crown.

This is the time of the year when the contenders separate themselves from the pack. The baseball world has shown this recently as the Cleveland Indians are currently riding a 15 game winning streak while the Los Angeles Dodgers have lost 9 out of 10 games and are starting to fall back to the pack. The Cubs have the chance to separate themselves from the division. It may be September but there’s no other way to put it, the Cubs are playing playoff games. The real playoffs may not start until October 5, but there’s only one way to get there: Win. This what fans have been waiting for, high-intensity baseball, high-stress pitches and intense at bats. This is what baseball’s about, and if the Cubs take care of business, there will be plenty more to look forward to in 2017.

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