Perhaps it is because the Milwaukee Brewers made a voodoo doll of Javier Baez, or maybe it was because I tempted fate one too many times in making light of the dwindling NL Central lead, but the Chicago Cubs just got swept in a series against their closest division rival, with the St. Louis Cardinals also gaining ground. So that means the cushion is now a slim two games, and there are still 19 games left to go.
Very unfortunately for the Cubs, they did not take advantage of their relatively easy schedule to get some extra separation before the Brewers came to town. And it’s not like they’re the Dodgers, who were on a historic winning pace before they hit their recent slump. It’s kind of funny to see the Dodgers still up nine games in the West despite losing ten in a row and seemingly in a freefall. So it’s a lot tougher to shrug this series off like we did last year when the Cubs ran away with the division even with a lengthy slump of their own.
In perspective, the Cubs made up a lot of games since we left them for dead at the All-Star Break. They just got Willson Contreras back, and any injuries suffered this season were not of the season-ending variety like when Kyle Schwarber went down last April. Even the prolonged absence of Addison Russell isn’t too scary, albeit annoying, because that meant that Javy had to basically play for a month straight at shortstop.
On the field, the usual suspects are hitting, but not all at the same time, which leads to a lot of stalled rallies at inopportune parts of the lineup. There have been calls to bench guys like Jason Heyward because offense is coveted over stellar defense, and also a curiosity as to why Schwarber isn’t starting more even though he’s had his share of difficulties this season. I suppose this entire year has been a mystery, given how good we know the Cubs to be and how confident we are that they had the depth to weather any slump.
The best news for now is that the Cubs even have a division lead, and that the Cards and Brewers still have to beat up on each other while the Cubs get another shot at both later on in the month. To go with that news, everybody is healthy for the most part, even if they are not playing up to potential. Schedule-wise, the Cubs are at home for the next week after a day off, so I’m just going to put up the day off picture because I don’t like the L flag being up for too long. From a philosophical point of view, I think I’m a fairly optimistic person, and I feel like the Cubs will still pull this off.
However, this is not like last year when the division was guaranteed by this time. The Cubs have talent, but they are not being handed anything on the cheap. They will get three shots at the depleted New York Mets before hosting the Cardinals next weekend. If they can’t take both series, then perhaps they might not deserve to go back to the playoffs, but they will still have more shots against their rivals, plus ending the season against the pesky but decidedly not good Cincinnati Reds. And the Cards and Brewers will still have to beat up on each other to end their seasons.
It hasn’t always been pretty in 2017, but in the realm of things we can control, we can at least try to feel positive that the Cubs are good enough and will play smart enough to be one of the rare World Series champions to get back to the playoffs the year after. Barring that, just remember that last year was awesome, and like I’ve been saying, 2016 should sustain me for a few years, at least. But hey, this weekend sucked, and it’s okay to be annoyed with our favorite team. They’re better than this. We just have to keep the positive thoughts going. What can it hurt?