As the Cubs were thumping the Cardinals last week with long HRs from very young, talented ballplayers, a fan in the stands boldly shouted to any Cardinals fan within earshot,
“You better get used to it!“
Those 6 words could serve as a warning to the Cardinals and the rest of the NL Central.
The Cubs are coming.
This is an odd feeling. After years of accepting losing — heck, even embracing it in exchange for the high draft pick and the accompanying pool money, there is a swagger developing with the Cubs.
Kyle Hendricks certainly feels it,
“There’s a lot of energy,” Hendricks said. “It’s almost like we’re expecting to win more, I guess. Just having a lot of young guys in here and we’re just all trying to play as best we can to kind of make our stamp. But at the same time, we won down in the minor leagues, so we kind of have that bred into us that we need to win and we want to win.”
The Cubs just finished playing 10 games against three NL Central teams and won 6 of them. They face another challenge with the contending Pirates coming to town next. But win or lose, I don’t expect these Cubs to be intimidated.
This run isn’t a recent phenomenon. The Cubs have gone 51-49 in their last 100 games. During that streatch they have survived a trade of their two top pitchers and the horrific 3-16 slump that followed. They have overcome disappointing years from starters like Mike Olt, Junior Lake, Travis Wood, and Edwin Jackson. They have survived trades and injuries, including recent injuries to their best hitter in Anthony Rizzo and now all-star shortstop Starlin Castro.
This team just keeps finding a way to win.
I don’t know if you can quantify what’s happening right now. Maybe it has no long term value, no correlation to what happens next season. Maybe it’s all meaningless…but I don’t think so. The culture is changing on the north side. The team doesn’t wait for something to go wrong. They play through adversity and when they see a slumping or injured team, they pounce on them. Those are the characteristics of a winning team. We can choose to minimize their wins because they came against teams that were less than 100%, but this is a team that used to be a tonic for slumping teams. Now the Cubs are piling on and adding to their misery.
And frankly, it feels kind of good to be the team nobody is eager to play right now.
I don’t know how long this underdog team can continue to win the rest of this season, but this group doesn’t seem to know anything else. As Hendricks said, many of these players are used to winning.
Imagine now if the Cubs add some veteran help this offseason: a Jon Lester to head the rotation and perhaps a Michael Bourn/Coco Crisp/Denard Span and/or a Russell Martin type player to provide some veteran leadership and experience to a young, talented core.
The Cubs are losing out in terms of their draft pick but the winning may bring something different to Chicago — and that is that they will once again be a desired destination for players. The Cubs have managed to get their share of free agents before, but those were undervalued players looking for an opportunity to play and increase their individual value. Or, as how Matt Garza once sold it to Edwin Jackson, the opportunity to play day baseball and spend more time with your family. They always came up short when it came to big fish like Anibal Sanchez and Masahiro Tanaka. Perhaps now impact players will start to see a completely different opportunity on the north side — and that is the opportunity to be part of something special.
They may start to understand what the Cubs young players already know — that this is a team ready to win. It’s a team that wants to win. Baseball is fun and exciting again on the north side.
I don’t know about the rest of the NL Central, but I can easily get used to this.
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