Ever since that fateful October night in 2016, the idea of Cubs baseball has shifted drastically. From a proverbial middle-of the-pack team who was barely above .500 record, to an up-and-coming baseball dynasty, it is safe to say that people’s interpretation of America’s favorite club has changed significantly.
It is difficult to say whether this is a good or a bad thing. The Cubs have always liked playing as the underdog. They were the underdog in 2016, and they have been the underdog in playoff runs during the 90s and late 2010s. Now, the North-Siders have a much greater responsibility to play as the favorites, a role that lends itself to feelings of underachievement and disappointment.
With the recent controversy surrounding Addison Russell and a less-than-stellar record in the month of September, many fans, including myself, have begun to feel that growing sense of dread and disappointment for little to no reason. The Cubs are still in the playoffs, they remain an exciting, competitive team, and they still have a lot to play for. So, looking at all of this, what must the Cubs do to make this year’s postseason run a successful one?
First, the Cubs have to shore up their pitching rotation. The postseason lends itself to this beautifully, where the Cubs can cut their starters down from a five-man rotation to a three-to-four man rotation. This means pitcher Mike Montgomery can take a reserve role, which he is much more suited for. With a three-man rotation of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Cole Hamels, the Cubs can find a much needed consistency in playoff baseball.
Second, the Cubs must play as a team. Too many times this season the Cub’s sucess has been carried by individual performances, including many from Javier Baez and a surprising few from David Bote. It is clear that the Cubs play best, however, when they play as a team. Manager Joe Maddon has always been fantastic at preaching and practicing that mindset, and he must look to redefine it when entering October play.
Third, Maddon must do what he does best: motivate the team. It is clear that a few of the players, including offensive powerhouses like Baez and Kris Bryant, are slumping going into the postseason. Maddon has the unique responsibility, as one of the greatest managers in all of baseball, to get the guys going again, something he has done in the past.
Lastly, the Cubs have to embrace being the underdogs. This 2018 Cubs team has the most character of any team I’ve seen this year. No other ball club has had to fight tooth-and-nail against some of the toughest competition in the league, all while going on a 30-day stretch without a single day off.
Only the Cubs have faced these challenges, and only they have grown from them. This is a team that knows how to play with their backs against the wall. They must embrace this mentality if they hope to succeed this postseason.
Going into the playoffs as a wild card will force the underperforming Cubs to put these practices into play. This is a team that has proven time and time again that it can fight through adversity. Now it is more important than ever to prove it once again, not just for the fans, but for the legacy of the team as a whole.