Wow, did these past six months fly by or what?
The Cubs began the year as the consensus best team in the league on paper, in many cases by a wide margin. And during the regular season, they certainly lived up to expectations. They got off to an incredible 25-6 start and, save for maybe a brief slump right before the All-Star Break, have clearly been the class of the entire majors and have had one of the most successful regular seasons in team history. In fact, their 103 wins ties the 2009 Yankees for the highest major league total since the 2005 Cardinals won 105.
But now, the Cubs are about to go up against either the Mets or Giants in the first round of the playoffs, either one of whom, if things go the way they’re supposed to, they should be able to beat easily. But we know that doesn’t always happen. I remember the 2008 Division Series, when the Cubs, with 97 wins, played the Dodgers, who won just 84. The Cubs were under a lot of pressure, coming off an early playoff exit the year before and emerging as the NL’s elite team from start to finish over the previous six months. Plus it was exactly 100 years since their last championship. I could tell even watching from home that there was a lot of tension in the stands. I don’t know how much of a factor that was, but the Cubs played an awful two games before the series shifted to the West Coast and the Dodgers finished the sweep.
Throughout that great 2008 campaign, I thought about how all this success will be for nothing if the Cubs flop in the postseason, and as it turns out, that’s what happened. This year, I made more of an effort to enjoy the amazing regular season. But we’ll have to forgive any fans who felt like the 2016 regular season was just a formality and that Friday is when the season really begins. All hell will break loose in the media if the Cubs lose one of those first two postseason home games. Let’s be honest: With the incredible expectations, this team is going to be judged almost solely on what happens from this point forward.
Is that fair? Well, it might not be. This franchise has made tremendous progress in a short amount of time. It’s easy to forget that they won 61 games just four years ago and won only 73 as recently as two years ago. But the postseason really is a crapshoot and anything can happen. We can spend all week analyzing the Cubs’ potential matchup with the Mets or Giants before Friday’s first game, but the reality is that the playoffs are completely unpredictable.
The Cubs dominated the National League all year, but they have to win three out of their next five or its all over. Even the best teams in the league usually have several stretches like that per year. One bad outing by Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta could derail their entire season; we have to have hope that they have their good stuff on the day they are each assigned to pitch.
That’s the tragedy of the postseason: Having the best team means nothing. Six months of success could be wiped out in about 72 to 96 hours. I’ve been waiting to see the Cubs win the World Series almost my whole life – and some folks have waited for much longer than I have. This might be the best chance they’ve ever had, and I don’t want that dream for this season to die. Yes, I’m really excited, and also optimistic. But forgive me for also being nervous. Life will go on if the Cubs don’t win it all this year, but if it doesn’t happen, it won’t be easy.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.