The Cubs believe they have the players to grow their early-season success into a legitimate playoff run. The first wave of talent is here, the roster is sprinkled with veterans and Jon Lester — despite his early-season mediocrity — is an established ace atop the rotation.
But it takes more than sheer talent to reach the playoffs, and the Cubs believe they have one of those inscrutable mental factors that should help them as the pressure builds in August and September. There’s a certain resilience the Cubs have captured through the season’s first two months, which showed up a few times on their recent road trip.
Before returning to Wrigley Field with a 6-3 win over Cincinnati Thursday night, the Cubs opened a lengthy road trip with a series loss to the lowly Marlins. That was followed by a series win over the stacked-on-paper Nationals, and after losing 6-0 to Detroit Tuesday, the Cubs followed with their biggest win (in terms of scoring margin) of the season.
“That’s what makes a difference between good teams and bad teams,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Bad teams, it carries over about what happened yesterday, good teams eliminate it.”
The Cubs haven’t lost more than two games in a row in over a month, have six walk-off wins and 14 wins when trailing after six innings. That kind of resiliency, Montero said, can be fostered with come-from-behind and dramatic wins, which leads to few extended losing streaks.
Manager Joe Maddon said it’s a trait not every team he’s been a part of has had.
“I’ve been on teams where I thought have been negatively impacted just by that, the fact that you just couldn’t drop it, you could not take that rock and drop it in the nearest lake,” Maddon said. “Just leave it alone, you don’t need it. You often hear me talk about I want to see how high we bounce after the fall. We’ve done pretty good.”
First baseman Anthony Rizzo agreed.
“No one really lets too many things affect them, whether it’s giving up runs, not having a good week, not having a good game,” Rizzo said. “We just play together and have fun together. You don’t see anyone really pouting too much and if he is or if someone is, we pick him up as a team.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]
That bounce-back ability has certainly played into the Cubs’ 32-26 record after Thursday’s win, a mark that puts them squarely in the way-too-early wild card discussion. But it’s a less-than-quantifiable measure that doesn’t guarantee anything, and sometimes isn’t necessary to reaching the playoffs. Montero said the 2007 Diamondbacks team he played on — which reached the NLCS — didn’t have that belief it’d win every game, even though it won 90 games and the National League West.
But the Cubs don’t have a large margin for error this year, not with most of its core players having never experienced a pennant race. But the hope is the resilient attitude possessed by all these young players and experienced veterans — and, perhaps most importantly, by the manager — will play an important role if every pitch begins to matter come the late summer and early fall.
“Just don’t be bringing bad vibes into the clubhouse because we had a bad day the day before,” Maddon said. “I think that’s where a lot of groups go wrong, when you want to carry something negative or a defeat from the day before into the next day.
“Leave it in the past, man. It serves no really good purpose.”