By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs are sitting at the top of the baseball world, but they know the postseason guarantees nothing.
When the Cubs last went to the World Series, back in 1945, the team with the best record in their respective league automatically went to the championship tilt.
Since the last time Chicago was in the World Series, three layers of playoffs have been added — the league championship series, the divisional series and the wild-card game — before you get to the final two teams left standing. As it sits now, the Cubs are in line to grab the top seed in the National League after clinching the divisional title late Thursday.
“There is a lot of luck involved in baseball and sports in general,” Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward said. “At the end of the day, if you have the right approach to it, you do all the little things, the simple things and play your game the right way. That is going to win baseball games. That is especially true in the playoffs. That is going to show up. Momentum shifts very quickly in those games. You most slow the game down, stay in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. Have fun with it and pay attention to the details. You go about it that way, everything will be just fine.”
Some players like like Heyward have been on teams with the best records and lost in the first round. Heyward played for the Cardinal sin 2015, winning an MLB-best 100 games but losing in the NLDS to the Cubs.
The Cubs at that time had won eight straight to end the regular season and defeated the Pirates in the wild-card game.
“The difference there was that you had two teams behind you that won 98 games and 97 games,” Heyward said, also referencing the Pirates. “They all could have won the division. It just depended on who was hot any given night. We clinched the regular season. When it come to the playoffs, none of that other stuff matters.”
The Cubs are concerned about handling the period between now and their playoff opener on Oct. 7. Staying ready after an early clinch will be a challenge for manager Joe Maddon and his staff. That alone still gives you no assurance of victory.
“It is when you run into somebody hot,” Maddon said. “Like last year, (then-Mets second baseman Daniel) Murphy. That was unbelievable what he did in (the NLCS). He really got hot. Their pitchers were making just great pitches. Normal play, you got a great chance. When you run into someone hot, it all can change. That is the part that can get in your way sometimes. Hopefully, it’s your guy. In a five-game series, you just don’t know. We have a little bit broader base now. Two guys vying for MVP. We have multiple Cy Young candidates. Hopefully one or two of our guys catch fire.”
Maddon hopes better approaches to the at-bats this fall,will pay big dividends in postseason games.
“One of the things I want our guys to do is move the baseball with two strikes,” Maddon said. “Let’s be able to make adjustments. We must be able to move the baseball when its necessary. That is something we need to do better than we did last year.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.