ST. LOUIS — The Cubs held over-the-top celebrations after beating last-place teams in April, so you can imagine the champagne-and-beer-fueled blowout at Wrigley Field once they wrap up the National League Central title.
The Cubs also shrug off losses to playoff contenders, not searching for big-picture meaning or dwelling on what could have been, all part of Joe Maddon’s 30-minute rule for flushing each game.
A naturally optimistic manager — who already tries to keep every player on the roster involved and looks for breaks in a brutal schedule — won’t stress about a post-clinch hangover or worry about the best team in baseball losing its edge.
Just look at how the Cubs responded to Wednesday’s 12:46 p.m. first pitch and 84-degree heat at the end of a 10-day road trip — with a 7-0 thumping of a St. Louis Cardinals team desperate to gain traction in the wild-card race. This win at Busch Stadium dropped the magic number to one, clinching at least a first-place tie in the division.
“I really believe it’s in the approach,” Maddon said. “You could have all these different plans mapped out, whatever, but it’s up to the individual guys.
“A lot of it’s conversational. Observationally, you got to watch what they’re doing and then talk to them: ‘How are you feeling?’ And then you look and see: Well, maybe, it’s not matching up. I’m not seeing what they’re talking about. Maybe they need more work, less work. They’re saying they’re fine. But, no, they look fatigued, tired. Get them off their feet.
“I don’t know the solid answer to that. What I do know is that once we do get to the point where we have clinched, we will settle into a routine that I would want to believe is going to keep them sharp and rested at the same time.
“What does it look like? What does it feel like? And then try to either put the gas pedal down or hit the brakes a little bit.”
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The Cardinals, New York Mets and San Francisco Giants won’t have that luxury, engaged in what appears to be a three-team battle for two wild-card spots. FanGraphs ran the playoff probabilities heading into Wednesday’s games and created this forecast: St. Louis at 52.9 percent; New York at 74.2 percent; and San Francisco at 64.7 percent with a remote chance to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West.
The Cardinals will begin a four-game showdown on Thursday night in San Francisco, the start of what could be a season-defining three-city road trip that ends at Wrigley Field next weekend.
Whoever emerges and survives the wild-card game will either be physically and emotionally drained — or already acclimated to the pressure and intensity, locked into a playoff mindset that will pay dividends in October.
“There’s something to be said for the competitive component that they’re going for it,” Maddon said. “But then there’s also fatigue. I’ve been on both sides, man. Coming from behind, coming from behind, eventually you get there and it’s wonderful. But it’s hard to sustain that for a long period of time.
“By fighting to get there, you always think there’s some kind of an edge to be gained there. But if you really have to push guys too hard, it can catch up to you also. Classic Catch-22 situation.”