By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — It was 32 years ago this month that the Chicago Cubs set the city a blaze with pennant fever for the first time since 1969.
The 1984 Cubs that won the Eastern Division by 6.5 games over the Mets and took a 2-0 lead on the Padres in the best-of-five National League Championship Series that season. Leading in each of the next three games, the those Cubs somehow still lost the next three games out in San Diego. While the organization ended a 39-year playoff drought, its pennant and and World Series drought continued and has in the present day stretched to 71 years and 108 years, respectively.
The starting shortstop on those 1984 Cubs was Larry Bowa, who’s now the bench coach for the Phillies who has seen the 2016 Cubs cruise to an MLB-best 79-45 record and a 12.5-game division lead with 38 games left in the regular season.
So, will these Cubs be the group to move past the barriers of past Chicago flops?
“Baseball is a funny game,” Bowa said Tuesday while the Phillies were in town to play the White Sox. “If nothing weird happens and they are injury free, they should win. They are solid at every position. Getting (Aroldis) Chapman was huge for them. They have great young players who are hungry to win and veterans who have been there. Short series, weird things can happen. I will put it this way: If anyone beats them, they will have had to put it all together and play out of their head.”
Bowa was a 15-year veteran on the 1984 Cubs. He had played countless playoff games and was on the 1980 Phillies world championship team. Having spent 50 years in professional baseball, the feisty baseball lifer is never easily impressed, so his words about these Cubs carry weight.
“You got the two top players going on the corners with (Kris) Bryant and (Anthony) Rizzo,” Bowa said without hesitation. “(Addison) Russell is just outstanding at what, 22 years old? They are a pretty talented ball club. They are deep. They are real deep and Joe (Maddon) plays these guys everywhere. The bullpen was really good and when you add Chapman, look out. I would think something really out of the ordinary would have to happen for them not to go to the World Series.”
Bowa also set the scene for possible pitfalls that could occur for the 2016 Cubs.
“I do know that when you face the elite pitchers in the playoffs and they make pitches, you must be able to win those close ones,” Bowa said. “The Cubs have tremendous firepower. You can, however, limit the damage with a strong bullpen. Every team has holes. It is a matter of them executing pitches. I still don’t see that team as a whole going into a slump. They have so many good players. Someone will carry them. They have to many weapons.”
The 70-year-old Bowa is still as sharp as ever and helps get the rebuilding Phillies prepared every day. He knows plenty about molding a young team, and he believes a year of playoff experience for the Cubs, who were swept by the Mets in the NLCS last season, will help take them a long way this time.
“You see that experience moving forward for them,” Bowa said. “They are on a mission. You hope young players learn from previous experiences. It is always a dog fight in the playoffs. If someone does beat them, that would really shock me. They are young and bring energy, plus a lot of talent every night. If anyone beat them, it would be a huge upset in my mind.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.