By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – These days, the postgame parties aren’t as raucous in the bowels of Wrigley Field.
The Cubs’ soundtrack of victory isn’t as loud as it used to be, and the smoke machine doesn’t leave manager Joe Maddon wheezing for his postgame pressers. Players aren’t drenched in cheap beer as often in 2017, the first season in which the Cubs aren’t staring up at baseball’s highest mountain. Now, they’re trying to stay on top.
Instead, with each win at Wrigley Field, a common message is often stated with a tone of quiet confidence.
Not in our house. Not today.
Of course, today always seems to bring something different for this Cubs team, one that bears such great expectations coming off a World Series title. In a 6-1 win over the Pirates on Monday, the Cubs went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base but earned a victory thanks to a gem from Mike Montgomery and the help of an infield single for Alex Avila that plated three runs thanks to a throwing error.
The Cubs moved to 70-60 win the win, enhancing their lead to 2.5 games over the Brewers and five over the Cardinals in the NL Central. They sit in a precarious position, one in which they can either run away from the pack or tread water and hope it’s good enough.
With all due respect to the upstart Brewers and the veteran-laden Cardinals, the Cubs are the greatest threat standing in the way of the Cubs.
Entering Monday’s matchup with the Pirates, the Cubs boasted an 88.4 percent chance at winning the NL Central and 91.5 percent shot at the postseason in FanGraphs’ projections. The second-place Brewers were at 5.6 percent and third-place Cardinals at 5.7 percent.
Despite their inconsistencies, the Cubs are still projected at 51.4 percent to make the NLCS, with a 28.5 percent shot of reaching the World Series and a 13.3 percent chance at making it back-to-back championships.
The Cubs control their own destiny from here on out. They hold the cards to another run at the World Series or a great disappointment. The Cubs can either be a dominant baseball force or their own worst enemy, depending on what day it is. They can score 17 runs in one game and then lose the next two to a last-place team.
Still, there’s no doubt for these Cubs.
“Confidence is big in this sport,” outfielder Albert Almora Jr. said. “Just because it’s a game of failure – you fail so much – you have to have confidence. Listen, we’re the reigning champs, man, so confidence is at an all-time high in this clubhouse. It’s almost the same team.”
Added Montgomery: “I’m on a good team and I want to win. Especially after last year, you realize that winning is the No. 1 goal — it trumps everything else.”
While Maddon has mentioned the surging Dodgers by name, his Cubs must first handle their own business before eyeing October. September will reveal whether this team has more consistent play in store.
The Cubs have the stars in the lineup with Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, plus the supporting cast of Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, Jason Heyward and more. Willson Contreras and Addison Russell will return from injury in time, and Kyle Schwarber has made strides at the plate. Jon Lester will return to the rotation soon, while Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks are reverting back to form.
When these Cubs are at their best, even the Dodgers should be wary. With consistency to their game, the Cubs deserve the consideration of a champion. First, they have to earn their way.
Those postgame celebrations aren’t nearly as rowdy as they once were, but the confidence hasn’t wavered one bit.
The Cubs control their destiny on the path to the playoffs.