By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) During Wednesday night’s National League wild-card game, I got a text message.
“Who you want to win tonight?” my brother typed in the passive-aggressive psychological fraternal White Sox fan way one does.
“Don’t care,” I Cutler’d.
I’d gone all day without thinking about it, had done a decent enough job all week of avoiding the “Here’s why the Cubs want to play ______” pieces and segments. New York Mets or San Francisco Giants, whatever. I guess I’d prefer TV not having to accommodate a West Coast audience on a Chicago school night, but otherwise the Cubs opponent did not — does not — matter to me.
As the their postseason commences Friday, opponent finally known (it’s the Giants, by the way), I have this feeling of business-like serenity about the Cubs. This is the next step ahead of more steps that will result in reaching a goal. It’s what I’ve assumed unconsciously for well over a year now and only now am letting myself acknowledge.
The much-mocked “Plan” of executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer has been exactly what we were told it was going to be. It was October 2011 when Epstein was hired to run this team and began explaining how the Cubs as title contenders would come to fruition in five years. And everything about the new organizational philosophy has been systematically accomplished along the way.
Slowly disembowel the entrails of the Jim Hendry era and Febreze the leftover stench. Rebuild the farm system. Develop, develop, develop. Wisely trade and sign. Ignore the haters fueled by ignorant local scribes. Be the game’s best team by 2016. It’s like the Cubs hired a GPS system for driving to a potential championship (and one that almost found a quicker route last year).
But a GPS can go awry. The Cubs theoretically could end up lost somewhere near the San Francisco Bay or leave their wallet in El Segundo.
To understand postseason baseball is to submit to randomness. It’s nearing the finish line of a marathon with the possibility that suddenly zombies will enter the course from the gallery or there will by giant Mario Kart weapons being thrown at you. It’s the chance that one Conor Gillaspie at-bat against one of baseball’s best relievers in a scoreless game changes two teams’ seasons.
But that submission to randomness has me oddly comfortable today. Last season I didn’t even consider it because I was so consumed with the pleasure of knowing that the Cubs would beat the Cardinals in the NLDS.
Then came the Mets buzzsaw, and another one like it isn’t impossible this year. I’m fully aware of this, and yet I have no expectation of it. The nervousness that’s supposed to come with Cubs rooting interest in the playoffs just … isn’t there.
This isn’t about Cubs history because that history is history. Lovable losers and tradition and curses and Brant Brown and all that other shredded cardboard filler of the void of intellectual Cubs conversations for decades is no more. That amputated limb of kitschy self-mutilation stupidity might still feel like it’s there — I find myself with bad Turk Wendell acid flashbacks once in awhile. But it’s gone forever. Trust me and decondition yourself from it if you haven’t already done so.
Credit manager Joe Maddon with this. Not only has he coached up his players to tune out the preseason expectations and the midseason crownings, but his Hippy Dippy Weatherman approach to handling what’s obviously the best team in baseball has rubbed off on me. He has his players taking nothing for granted while quietly absorbing an attitude of dominance.
Where the Cubs are at right now is where they’re supposed to be, just as was expected in spring training. Everything that was supposed to happen happened. The Cubs are healthy. The have incredible versatility, including three catchers and half an offense that can play multiple positions. They have suboptimal lineups — with “holes” like David Ross and an offensively underachieving Jason Heyward — that was best in the NL in offensive WAR by more than 49 and had a run differential 68 better than anyone else in baseball.
They’re the game’s best defensive team, with a WAR 32.7 better than the next team (which helps minimize a lot of that dreaded randomness working against them). Their starting staff has the most postseason wins and lowest ERA of NL clubs involved in 2016. They have the league MVP and two pitchers in Cy Young contention. There are polished veterans, disciplined kids.
This is fun, but this is business now. And none of the national bad narratives you’re going to hear about 1989 and curses and deep dish and Blues Brothers and insufferable “local” celebrities who haven’t lived in Chicago in decades will deter that business.
“Last year being in the postseason has really helped going into this year,” Anthony Rizzo told ESPN Radio via The Athletic’s daily newsletter. “Knowing that we don’t have the stress of a one-game elimination, we have our big dogs, we’re all lined up with our rotation.
“Last year we were just on the fly and everything seemed like it was going a thousand miles an hour. This year it seems like everything is just really slow and we’re just kind of seeing it all unfold.”
Rizzo is invoking the 2016 Cubs-speak of, “We’re fine, we got this.”
All the peripheral stuff is noise. I’m very much comfortable in not caring about who the Cubs are playing Friday or next week or the week after. It’s all decoration to what we were told to expect.
Now Friday begins the finishing of the job.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.