Every game started and ended around the same time on Sunday, the final day of the 2017 MLB regular season. As we look on to postseason baseball, in which every player on every contender knows they have a shot but also realize that a weird bounce or a hot bat could change their fortunes in a hurry, it was quite nice to know that Sunday’s game did not matter in terms of the playoff picture anyway. You could tell because the home plate umpire was pretty much flipping a coin for balls and strikes (much more than usual, anyway–check out our Dreamcast for some thoughts on automated strike zones) and the Reds were sort of trying while the Cubs lineup kept changing as Joe Maddon worked with fall training. Heck, even Albert Almora decided not to crash into a wall in the game.
The Cubs already know who they’re going to play in the Washington Nationals, and every other matchup will just be in the background as we track our favorite team until they either go all the way or get officially eliminated. It’s been a relaxing season even before the Cubs clinched the division, because of what happened last year, and also because we always had faith in the talent on this club. The pockets of panic and despair happen for every team every year, even the defending World Series champions. The fact that they have a chance to defend is soothing to the soul, a collection of souls in Chicago and associated with the North Side that had long been tortured before the greatest sporting triumph of our time.
There will be time to look at matchups and rosters and what not, but for now, we are sad to see the daily grind go away. I’m sure the players don’t mind having the extra travel days plus the rest days before the division series start, but they will be kicking it into high gear, knowing that every game is another chance to advance or another nail in their season’s coffin. There won’t be baseball on every day again for another few months, yet our angst will increase exponentially as the inevitability of advance or elimination looms. And then…there will again be four long months of nothing as the players rest and organizations retool for 2018.
Let’s be grateful that the Cubs gave us yet another entertaining, albeit more frustrating, season, and that they were able to get back to October baseball. Let’s also hope they make the most of this opportunity, an opportunity that 20 other teams won’t get. The Cubs may not go all the way (or maybe they will!), but having that opportunity to keep watching and following them is a wonderful privilege that we should not take lightly. Knowing that they have a good chance to keep this window of opportunity jammed open for years to come helps, too.