CINCINNATI – The Cubs don’t know if Wrigley Field will be dark in October, but going on the road for a one-game playoff might be the best thing for this team. Get away from the distractions, the circus atmosphere and all that pent-up anxiety.
Joe Maddon doesn’t have any use for that theory and doesn’t really believe in home-field advantage, either. So the star manager won’t have time for Bartman or Billy Goat or whatever else the national media latches onto as the Cubs return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“I do vibrate on a different frequency, man,” Maddon said. “I’m not worried about that stuff. I don’t understand those kinds of concepts. So, really, for me, it’s a moot point.”
It’s not like this is a fluke team or a No. 16 seed coming out of a small-school conference for March Madness. The Cubs have 92 wins after a 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park that began Tuesday night and ended Wednesday morning.
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Dan Haren waited out a rain delay that lasted two hours and 31 minutes to throw 7.1 scoreless innings, auditioning for a spot in the playoff rotation if Jake Arrieta beats the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League’s wild-card game.
“It starts from the top,” Haren said. “I doubt that Joe is going to get tightened up for that game. If anything, he’s going to want us extra loose. Like he’s said a couple times, it’s all about the pitching. And with the way Jake’s throwing the ball, we feel good.”
The Cubs moved to within three games of the Pirates for home-field advantage in that one-game playoff. The St. Louis Cardinals can clinch baseball’s best division by winning one game in Wednesday’s doubleheader at PNC Park.
During Monday’s pregame media session inside Wrigley Field’s interview/room dungeon, Maddon listened to a reporter describe how Lou Piniella had a staying-in-the-moment meeting with his players before Game 1 of a 2008 division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Only to find a Greek Orthodox priest blessing the home dugout with holy water, a move sanctioned by Crane Kenney, now the franchise’s president of business operations, in a random footnote to a three-game sweep.
“Being Roman Catholic, I don’t know if I can do that,” Maddon said.
In October 2008, Addison Russell was 14 years old, Kyle Schwarber was a sophomore at Middletown High School (Ohio) and Kris Bryant hadn’t yet celebrated his 17th birthday.
“We are a special group of ballplayers,” said Schwarber, who went 2-for-3 with two walks against his hometown team. “We feel like we can do damage down the road. We don’t take any outside pressure. It’s more pressure from ourselves, because we know we are good.”
The Cubs clinched early enough that Theo Epstein’s front office and Maddon’s coaching staff will have so much time to tinker with the roster – not to mention all the one-game over-analysis and what-if scenarios for the media.
“I want us to do less preparation for this,” Maddon said. “Less work, less prep, less video, less everything – just go play. This is the time of the year where you just go play and rely on your abilities, your instincts, all the training and the work you’ve done to get to this point.
“The trap is to overthink it. That, to me, is the worst thing you can possibly do. Whoever we’re going to play, we played them 19 times already this year.
“My goodness, you’ve got to know the other side. They know us. We know them. We’ll remind each other about a couple little things prior to that game. But it’s about the players.”
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The Cubs now have a 100-run leadoff guy (Dexter Fowler), the second player in the 30/30 club in major-league history (Anthony Rizzo joined Don Baylor with 30 homers and 30 hit by pitches) and the hottest pitcher on the planet (Arrieta).
Maddon’s entire philosophy is built around the idea of playing the same game, whether it’s March 7, June 7 or Oct. 7. Stay tuned to see if the Cubs really can block out all the playoff noise.
“If you turn your players loose and let them play, that’s your best chance of winning that particular game,” Maddon said. “(Don’t) have them go out there encumbered with thoughts that are only going to get in the way.”