ST. LOUIS – Even Jason Heyward – a thoughtful player who chooses his words carefully – admits the Cubs would particularly enjoy clinching a division title in front of the St. Louis Cardinals and partying at Busch Stadium.
“But I want to wreck the American League clubhouse or Wrigley at the end of the year,” Heyward said before Monday’s 10-2 win eliminated the Cardinals from the National League Central race and guaranteed at least a tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. “That’s what’s most important.
“So, yeah, that could be fun here. It will be fun. Celebrating’s fun, regardless. But we got to take care of some business. That will be a fun step to where we want to be.”
This is exactly where Heyward wanted to be, because he saw one window opening and another one closing when he switched sides after the 2015 playoffs where the Cubs dismantled a 100-win Cardinals team.
The Cubs have only 12 players left from the 25-man roster for that NL Division Series roster, amassing young talent and building out a deep organization on the verge of a third 90-win playoff season in a row.
Heyward signed the biggest contract in franchise history: before Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez played a wire-to-wire season in the majors; before Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. made their big-league debuts; and the same year the Cubs drafted Ian Happ.
“Signing with Chicago, people would always say: ‘Oh, how do you feel about the rivalry?’” Heyward said. “When I got to the Cubs, I made it kind of clear that I feel like we got some catching up to do, as far as that goes, playoff wins and world championships and things like that.
“This is another opportunity to take a step in that direction. And we want to continue to be known as a team that’s expected to be in the playoffs.”
Heyward may never live up to the offensive expectations set by an eight-year, $184 million megadeal. But he is at least a more productive hitter this season with a .259 batting average (up almost 30 points) and a .705 OPS (a 74-point jump) to go along with his contact skills, game-changing instincts on the bases and Gold Glove defense in right field.
There are also the intangibles that might make Heyward the most respected player in the clubhouse for his day-to-day attitude, sense of calm and leadership style. (See: World Series Game 7 Rain Delay Speech.)
After getting swept by the Brewers on Sept. 10 – which left Milwaukee and St. Louis only two games back – it was Heyward who reminded reporters at Wrigley Field that no one would remember what happened during the regular season as long as the Cubs got into the playoffs. The defending World Series champs have gone 11-2 since then, finally looking like a team ready for October.
“We’re on a rollercoaster of a baseball season,” Heyward said. “Every year’s different and you got to be able to handle each blow.
“You can’t ever say ‘back on track’ or whatever. I don’t feel like we’ve gotten ‘on track.’ We’re in first place. We’ve been in first place for a while now. And here we are with a chance to clinch our division. To me, we’re on track.”