By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — If these Cubs are known for anything, its seems to be for their flair of winning with a sense of history in mind.
Like Lazarus rising from the ashes of a broken season, the Cubs have surged in the second half to put themselves in position to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive season. That would mark the first time since 1908 that the franchise has accomplished such a feat. Chicago’s magic number to clinch the NL Central is one. The Cubs will wrap up a division title with a win against the Cardinals on Tuesday night or a Brewers loss to the Reds.
What’s remarkable about the Cubs this year is they were a measly 43-45 at the All-Star break, 5.5 games back of the Brewers.
“We needed that break,” manager Joe Maddon said recently. “We were able to reset, and you see what the results have been like.”
Maddon was referring to his team’s 45-23 record in the second half, the second-best mark in baseball behind the Indians’ crazy 51-18 run. While the Cubs have received quality pitching and seen their offense surge and come up with more timely hits, Maddon believed their was a mental factor that led to this success as well.
“We reacted in a playoff manner for these for games,” he said over the weekend as the Chicago took three of four at Milwaukee. “Our mental intensity could not be beaten.”
Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer did their part to spark the Cubs by acquiring left-hander Jose Quintana at the All-Star break. Quintana is 7-3 with a 3.50 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 13 starts with the Cubs. After a rough August in which he had a 5.73 ERA, he’s rebounded and come up big in September, with a 1.63 ERA in four starts.
The Cubs also acquired veteran catchers Alex Avila and Rene Rivera to help bolster their depth, as well as lefty reliever Justin Wilson, who has struggled for long stretches but stepped up recently.
And of course, Epstein joined Maddon in changing the Cubs’ mentality as well, publicly challenging the 25-man roster to step up and play better as he acquired pieces to help them.
As for Maddon, he has proved to be a patient leader in preparing his team for the championship push. He always keeps the big picture in mind, rarely making any game more than it is. His approach is backed by ample evidence — the Cubs are 114-55 in regular-season games in August, September and October in his three seasons in Chicago. That .675 winning percentage is the best of any MLB team in that span in such a regard.
“We are excited,” left-hander Jon Lester said after Chicago’s win at St. Louis on Monday night. “We have been playing good baseball since the break. Everyone is playing good baseball. Everyone is feeling good about themselves. Hopefully, we can continue to play good baseball as we move toward postseason.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.