CHICAGO – Yes, the perfect scenario would be for this final week of the regular season to be a foregone conclusion. But it’s rarely that clean.
In 2015 the Cubs were locked into the second Wild Card spot, so the last week was setting up for the one-game playoff with the Pirates. The next year, the Cubs were far and away the best team in the National League Central division, making most of September a preparation for an eventually World Series championship run.
But 2017 and this season are a little more normal, and in 2018 the division race continues to be tight with seven games remaining in the season.
Joe Maddon’s team starts a four-game series with the Pirates at Wrigley Field on Monday night with a 2 1/2 game lead on second place Milwaukee, who travels to third place St. Louis for a three-game series of their own. The Magic Number if five for a division title and just one for a playoff spot, but naturally the Cubs would like to stay out of that Wild Card game.
Should they struggle in the four games against the Pirates, they would face the third place Cardinals for three more games to end the season at home.
Sounds stressful, right? We’ll not really. A playoff-tested Cubs team actually relishes the pressure of a final week with so much on the line.
“It’s gonna be a fun week for us,” said pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who would likely start one of the weekend game against the Cardinals. “But it starts with tomorrow, Monday, nothing’s done yet. We’ve got to play each and every game, come into the ballpark, and focus on the task at hand.”
That’s not a bad philosophy considering the fact that Pittsburgh would love to play spoilers to a Cubs team that, in essence, ruined their championship window in that Wild Card game back in 2015. It’s been a tight season series with the teams, with the Cubs owning an 8-7 record in the previous 15 games between the clubs.
Three years of playoff experience figures to help the Cubs get where they need to be in these final seven games to pull off a franchise first – making the playoffs four years in a row. Kyle Schwarber is quite excited to make it happen.
“It’s always a fun part of the year, especially when it comes down to the end and October is coming around the corner,” said the outfielder. “It’s a brand new season after the season is over.”
But the current one isn’t quite over yet.