PHILADELPHIA – This is the time of year where the Cubs used to be paying more attention to their fantasy-football teams and auditioning players for the future.
But in a season that has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations with a 93-win pace, the Cubs are watching real scoreboards when every game matters now.
“That’s why when you split here, it feels terrible,” Chris Coghlan said after almost hitting for the cycle during Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. “For as good as we’ve been playing, it’s a disappointment.”
If playing the worst team in baseball dulled the senses on any level, the Cubs will feel a shot of adrenaline at the next stop on this three-city road trip: Four games in three days against the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning with Tuesday’s doubleheader at PNC Park.
“This is why you work,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This is why you do this thing – to be in that position to play those kind of games. It’s exciting for everybody.”
The Cubs trail the Pirates by four games for the National League’s first wild-card spot and home-field advantage in that one-game playoff. The St. Louis Cardinals don’t look quite as invincible anymore and can’t shift into cruise-control mode when their lead over the Pirates has shrunk to 2.5 games.
“We know,” Coghlan said after going 4-for-5 with two triples, his 16th home run and a flyball to the warning track in center field. “You see it up on the scoreboard.
“Any time (the Cardinals or Pirates) are down you realize: ‘Man, we win tonight, we got a real good chance to move up if they don’t come back.’ That’s what’s been kind of disappointing, because the Cardinals are such a solid team. They haven’t really lost eight out of their last 10 very often. You don’t really see spurts like that with them.
“So when you can win a game playing a team here – no disrespect to them because they’re professionals and a young team and exciting – but these are games we need to win three out of four.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
After failing to capitalize on Friday’s doubleheader sweep of a Phillies team that just fired the general manager, the Cubs can make their mark in baseball’s toughest division with 10 of their final 20 games against the Pirates and Cardinals.
“That’s enough games to make up ground,” Coghlan said. “Now, do we have it in us? Yeah, we do. Are we going to? Only time’s going to tell. I don’t know the future. Nobody does. But I think if we have that mindset – (win as many games as we can down the stretch) – it’s possible to win the division, yeah, 100 percent.”
In Pittsburgh, the Cubs won’t be facing Aaron Harang (who came into the game with 15 losses and a 5.02 ERA). And they won’t be starting Dan Haren (who lasted only three innings and put his team in a 4-1 hole). Game 1 on Tuesday afternoon should feel like October with Gerrit Cole staring down the Cubs.
“The bottom line is all these dudes are studs,” Coghlan said. “We got studs. They got studs. Both teams – that’s the reason why we won as many games as we have. It doesn’t matter. You toe the line. This guy’s legit. Our guy’s legit. It’s just a battle of attrition at that point.”