By Matt Spiegel–
(CBS) This is what it feels like, Chicago. This is what a legit baseball race feels like, in the late stages of summer.
It’s a playoff game every night. And lest we forget, the manager treats it that way.
We’ve been watching the team in question since March, having known these Cubs were on the rise. They’re supposed to be “next,” but next is quite possibly now.
It’s exciting. It’s filled with possibilities. It demands your attention and reduces your evening options. It’s riveting.
It’s been a while.
The 2012 White Sox were the last team to give us a taste of it, as they were a surprising first-place team for an amazing 126 days that season. But the whole year was characterized by surprise, doubt and a pervasive proclamation of impending Detroit Tigers doom. The doom came in September, as the White Sox finished 13-18, losing 10 of 12 at one point.
This Cubs season is characterized by surprise, joy and fervor at how far ahead of schedule “the plan” seems to be. There’s no pervasive proclamation of impending doom, unless it comes from bitter “haters” or Sun-Times columnists.
The 2009 Cubs were vying for their third straight division title but were riddled with injuries. Also, after two prior season-ending playoff sweeps, it was hard to believe that team was worth emotional investment. Those Cubs were tied for first place as late as Aug. 5 but never saw first again. An 11-17 month put them 10 games back by Aug. 30.
2008 is the last real touchstone, on both sides of town. The Cubs had the second-best record in the game, scored 56 more runs than anyone in the National League and led all of MLB with a run differential of plus-184. We didn’t know that Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers loomed for another three-game sweep in October.
Those White Sox were a thrilling surprise, after a 2007 finish 18 games under .500 in fourth place. The 2008 team started well, hit first place on May 17 and held at least a share of the lead for 154 days. The White Sox were never more than a game out the entire rest of the way. Every month was a winning one through August, when they went 17-10.
Remember that season’s end? The White Sox lost five in a row in late September but won their final two games to force a one-game playoff with the hated Twins. Then 40,000 fans wore black, John Danks pitched well, Ken Griffey Jr. threw Michael Cuddyer out at the plate and Jim Thome went deep. Playoff baseball on both sides of town.
That August and September on the South Side felt like it does now on the North Side. You have to watch. If you’re in the car, you have to listen. At home, the game goes on at 7 p.m. sharp. Toddlers get their final hour awake with baseball in the background. Bath and bedtime parent rituals may be hustled through in the early innings.
Adult bathroom breaks are delayed until the Cubs defense is on the field. The young players’ at-bats just shouldn’t be missed. Administrative tasks or home chores might get done, but multi-tasking reigns with the game remaining in its familiar role as summer companion. If your windows are open, you might hear neighbors living the same way.
The ratings say interest is peaked at its highest since 2009, but we know it more resembles 2008.
The sky is the limit. This feeling should last through September, into October and maybe even November.
Nice to have it back.
Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.