Their lofty goals include a weekend in sunny SoCal, but Anthony Rizzo thinks the only way to achieve them is for the Cubs to stay focused on the minor details. To realize the nearly impossible, the Cubs believe they can’t get too far ahead of themselves.
Frankly, that’s a good idea.
Even though the Cubs managed to stave off elimination on Wednesday night, they’re still in a very bad way. The Cubs’ chances of repeating as World Series champions are technically alive courtesy of a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. But it doesn’t change the fact that if the Cubs are to become only the second team in 36 tries to overcome a 3-0 series deficit, they’ll have to do it with a stagnant offense and a shaky bullpen.
“You can’t think about the big picture in these games,” Rizzo said. “You’ve got to go one pitch at a time. It doesn’t matter what you did that pitch before, you’ve gotta go to the next one and move on.
“We want to have a good weekend in LA. We want to go to LA this weekend and get out there and play some more baseball. We’re not ready to go home.”
The Cubs know they’re up against long odds. They’re aware that a number of teams have been in their position before and failed miserably. Only the Boston Red Sox have overcome a 3-0 deficit when they rallied to topple the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
Still, the Cubs have managed to stay loose and focused despite their predicament.
“We're not putting pressure on ourselves,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “We're just going out there and we're worrying about playing our game. We're not panicked.”
Perhaps it’s because they’ve been here before. It could be their manager and his ability to keep things loose. Or maybe it’s just that this group has experienced it all together over the past two-plus seasons.
For whatever reason, the Cubs are comfortable.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of failure,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “We’ve dealt with our backs against the wall. It’s just about how you mentally prepare and I feel like with the bunch of guys we have, they’ve been on that run with us.
“I would say it’s a little bit more familiar to contain all the eagerness and anxiousness.”
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There have been a ton of tribulations for this group to absorb.
Heading into Wednesday’s contest, the Cubs had the lowest batting average (.172) of any postseason team that had played eight games. Their .255 on-base percentage was the third-worst of those 145 teams and the 2.63 runs per game was fifth.
Javy Baez lifted the team’s spirits on Wednesday as he broke out of his postseason slumber with two solo home runs. Willson Contreras also delivered a bolt from the heavens with a 491-foot solo homer off the scoreboard.
“It’s just good energy,” Rizzo said.
Still, the Cubs couldn’t pull away, which left them in a position where they needed Herculean efforts from Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis. And it won’t get any easier on Thursday with Clayton Kershaw on the mound.
Then there’s the bullpen, which entered Game 4 with 23 walks issued, the most ever by any postseason team that had played eight games. Aside from Davis, who Joe Maddon ruled out for Game 5, Cubs relievers have been mostly shaky.
That’s not a good formula for a team that has constantly found itself in a number of close ballgames.
But those are the details the Cubs know they must avoid thinking about if they want to spend another weekend at Dodger Stadium. Instead of focusing on their flaws, they’re embracing the moment.
“I want there to be pressure,” Maddon said. “I want there to be a carrot at the end of the stick. I want all of that. I talk about never putting the pressure to exceed the pleasure, just meaning to handle the moment.
“We started this with a trip to Omaha, Nebraska (in spring) … and now we are here, coming on October 19th.
“It’s a lot of time in between. So, there’s a lot of different moments that occur Some are pressurized, and that’s good. Otherwise you’re home cooking steaks right now.”