If the Chicago Cubs have any real thoughts of making a run at the NL Central division title –a long shot on a good day– then it has to start today (Labor Day) when they open up a three-game series in St. Louis against the rival Cardinals, who just lost two-of-three to the Pittsburgh Pirates at home, meaning they aren’t due to lose again until about October 1. The Cubs have their work cut out for them.
Now September 7, making up 8 1/2 games is starting to feel like miracle territory. Though it’s possible with six remaining games against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs would need to go 5-1, or 6-0 to make any kind of significant dent in that lead. Even the most optimistic fan has to consider that unlikely.
Catching the Pirates, who currently hold a three game lead for home field advantage in the wild card game, seems more realistic; the Cubs have seven remaining games with them.
The Cubs are embarking on an 11-game road trip –7 of those 11 are against the Cardinals and Pirates. The other four are against the Philadelphia Phillies, who despite their terrible season, came into Wrigley at the end of July, punched the Cubs in the spleen, stole their lunch money, and swept them.
Having home field in the wild card has its obvious advantages, but it might be particularly important when it comes to the Cubs and Pirates. The Pirates are 46-21 at home and are just 35-33 on the road. The Cubs are 43-28 at home and are 35-29 on the road. Beyond the records, several of the Cubs key contributors have been much better at home.
Kris Bryant is one of the more extreme examples. At home, Bryant’s line is .299/.404/.628 with 19 home runs. On the road, his line is .236/.331/.345 with just four home runs. Addison Russell is another. At home, his line is .270/.313/.480. On the road, it’s .213/.281/.315. The range is wide enough, and the sample size large enough, that even if you can’t pinpoint an explanation, it’s a viable concern in the short term. If there is an explanation, it probably has something to do with youth, as everything with the Cubs these days seems to.
The ace in the hole is Jake Arrieta. We have no idea what he’ll do across the rest of September, but he gives the Cubs a legitimate chance to win a one-game playoff, regardless of who the opponent is.
This upcoming road trip will go a long way to settling the ultimate pecking order for the division and the wild card race. No one knows how the Cubs will come out of such a difficult stretch, but the fact that a stretch in the middle of September is important at all is beautiful music to a nation of Cubs fans, and, ideally, a sign of things to come.
Three days from now, the Cubs could be 5 1/2 behind the Cardinals, or they could be 11 1/2. The Cubs could move into the top wild card spot, or they could fall to 6 back. Things are about to get wild, and it’s time to see if these young Cubs are ready for prime time.
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