You may have noticed something different about Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, but perhaps you were unable to put your finger on it.
Was it unseasonably cold, or unseasonably hot, or… well, we don’t have consistent enough weather here, so no.
Maybe you wore a different pair of shoes to work? Maybe you went to the gym at a different time? No?
No, maybe you sat down to watch the Cubs play, as they always seem to do, and… what’s this? No Cubs game? If you were surprised to not find a Cubs game anywhere, it’s probably because it was the Cubs’ first day not dressing for a baseball game since Aug. 20 – 30 days ago.
MLB needs to get its shit together
This all came about because the Cubs, already with just two scheduled off days in September, lost one at the end of August: a make-up game with the Braves – and then lost another because of the debacle that was their four-game series with the Nationals from Sept. 6-9.
This was a season in which teams were supposed to have “three to four additional off days spread throughout the season – off days that were quickly rendered moot by the record number of scheduled games that were postponed due to weather in April.
And the Cubs weren’t alone. Other teams in Midwestern cities – which, you know, don’t exactly have nice weather in April – were met with grueling stretches of near-nonstop baseball themselves, including the Minnesota Twins (who played 40 games in 41 days from August to mid-September) and the Cubs’ neighbors on the other side of town, as the White Sox had a stretch of 34 games in 34 days.
Debates about which stretch of games was more egregious aside, all of this points to an obvious problem that MLB needs to fix. This season has thoroughly demonstrated that more needs to be done than slapping on a few useless off days that will be eaten by the inevitable postponements you invite when you schedule games in the Midwest during March and April.
Maybe those Midwest teams need an early West Coast Swing to start the year.
This 2018 team is one of the most resilient we’ve seen
Two years ago, when (as you might remember) the Cubs won the World Series, the team dominated from the beginning to the end of 2016. Yeah, there was a brief summer swoon and a comeback from a 3-1 deficit (Cleveland blew a 3-1 series lead, by the way), but the team didn’t face much adversity.
The 2016 Cubs had an injury to Kyle Schwarber and… well, that’s about it, while the 2018 Cubs have seen names like Kris Bryant, Brandon Morrow, and Yu Darvish spend significant time on the DL or be shut down completely. The Cubs have fought through this adversity anyway, maintaining the best record in the NL entering the final stretch of the season, and their play during these 30 days with no rest is a microcosm of that.
With a hot Brewers club right on their tail, you could be forgiven for expecting that 3-game lead they had entering play on Aug. 20 to shrink to nothing. Instead, it shrunk by half a game, to a 2.5-game margin (before Saturday).
With fatigue setting in, you might expect Cubs pitching to be worn down and hitters to stop producing. Put together, you might expect that to cause the Cubs to barely perform at a .500 level during this stretch. They went 18-11 – a winning percentage of .625 which, if extrapolated to an entire 162-game season, would be good for 101 wins.
“We never quit” was the mantra of the 2016 Cubs. But the 2018 Cubs seem to have resurrected it this season, pulling back from the brink whenever they’ve been there.
The Mad(don) scientist
Cubs fans, for some reason, have found a lot of things to gripe about with Joe Maddon despite his 400 managerial wins with this team and WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP.
Despite some questionable decisions, such as leaving Strop in to hit, resulting in a (regular) season-ending injury, Maddon showed why he’s one of the best in the business over this stretch. Over the 30-day period, the Cubs skipper managed to get players days off anyway, keeping them as fresh as he could. What’s more, though, with the Cubs bullpen running on fumes after they headed back to Washington (and that awful Skittles tarp that I never want to see again), Maddon started spelling his major bullpen pieces, handing the ball to guys like Jaime Garcia, Jorge De La Rosa, and Randy Rosario. And with each out they recorded, he looked more and more like a genius, as the bullpen “core” of Jesse Chavez, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr., and Steve Cishek all got some much-needed rest.
In other words, despite MLB’s ineptitude doing everything it could to tank their season (no, I know it wasn’t a personal attack on the Cubs, calm down), the Cubs came out the other side looking as strong as ever, and need only to whittle their magic number of 8 down to nothing in the next 9 games.