By Mark Grote–
(CBS) Everything changed for this Cubs season between Aug. 6 and Aug. 15. A nine-game winning streak occurred over that time span and blasted the Cubs’ record up to 67-48. A six-game winning streak a week later, and the Cubs were 22 games over .500.
It meant everything, because prior to that the Cubs had been stuck in this developmental dance between about four and seven games over .500. Due to the horror of the five years of Cubs baseball prior to 2015, that was more than enough to keep the fans and outsiders engaged and likely satisfied if the season had ended right there without a playoff berth.
The Cubs were entertaining. They had gold-star prospects both learning and thriving at the big league level. You’ll take that.
But now the Cubs are in pole position for one of the NL wild-card spots and are being told to leave the kids’ table behind and win. Period.
“It’s not April, it’s not May, and it’s not June,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re not trying to develop, we’re trying to win.”
Maddon does acknowledge that what’s going on here is abnormal.
“You’re going to develop multiple rookies on the major league level, but to have them play at this level, and contribute this much, that’s the part that is unique,” Maddon said.
Rookie Addison Russell, 21, had to learn the nuances of playing second base at the major league level for much of the season before eventually making his way to to his shortstop position, which hasn’t been without its imperfections.
“It’s surprising,” Russell said. “I didn’t think anything that has happened this year would happen. It’s a position we put ourselves in. I think we like the competition aspect of the major league level. Especially during this chase.”
To take it one step further, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein reminds us that a lot of these players are in their sixth month of regular-season baseball for the first time ever, but he doesn’t believe they are vulnerable to the big moment.
“It’s such a loose group,” Epstein said. “I don’t think players are out there thinking about the standings or thinking about pressure and the gravity of the situation. They are allowing their talent to take over and win the ball game.”
And from here on out, winning is all that matters.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter @markgrotesports.