Something is brewing on the north side of Chicago. This past Friday, it had plenty to do with Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs dealing just 90 minutes from Chicago. An air of excitement is passing through the city. It is optimism, it is hope. It is also the legitimate belief that the Chicago Cubs are no longer the lovable losers. It is a feeling that for the first time in years, the Chicago Cubs look like World Series contenders.
There are plenty of reasons why Chicago Cubs fans have hope going into the playoffs. They must take care of business by first beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game elimination wildcard round. Should the Cubs advance to face the St. Louis Cardinals, the road to the World Series may be opened up by exorcising some baseball demons.
It begins with what Jake Arrieta can do this Wednesday.
What better way to advance in the MLB playoffs than by defeating two divisional rivals. The Pirates and Cardinals are the same rivals that the Cubs had gone 8-4 against in the month of September.
Momentum is the next game’s starting pitcher, they say. Jake Arrieta is the next game’s starting pitcher, and he has the momentum. There is something different here, though. It is not about momentum with Arrieta or the Chicago Cubs, it is about belief.
In order for them to advance in the MLB Playoffs, the Cubs have to believe that the team they face are just the team that is in the way of their destination.
Knowing that they can defeat the Pirates is half the battle. Knowing that St. Louis, historically the Cubs’ boogeyman team, is beatable, can propel them into heights unknown to the north side of Chicago in over a century.
The Cubs were last in the playoffs in 2008. Lack of situational hitting was the primary reason for the short postseason run. It was in 2003 when they last threatened to reach the World Series. That served as the stage for the infamous “Steve Bartman incident,” which can be revisited on Wikipedia.
Cubs fans blame Steve Bartman’s interference on a potential foul ball catch as the reason why the Cubs did not advance to the World Series. They were leading three games to two, and appeared well on their way to the “Fall Classic.” It would have been the Cubs’ first Series appearance since 1945.
The Cubs’ fan base was already haunted by the “Billy Goat Curse,” and Steve Bartman’s gaffe made him an instant pariah.
Something about this time around is different. There was not much of a buzz surrounding the Chicago Cubs in 2008.
That team, led by skipper Lou Piniella, who ironically was replaced in Tampa Bay by current Cubs manager Joe Maddon, never created so much hope. Fans even tried to make amends with Bartman.
Bleacher Report chronicles how a group of people got together to help bring Bartman to the wild card game on Wednesday. Bartman turned down the gesture, but the fact that there was even an offer in the first place suggests progress and forgiveness.
What’s happening in Chicago seems different than the years in the past. One can easily point to the fact that this is a young team, which is actually an asset here, that has a strong one-two pitching combination. The top name in the pitching rotation has been unhittable in the last two months.
Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta takes the mound for the Cubs on Wednesday when they face the Pittsburgh Pirates. Arrieta has a sub 1.00 (0.75) ERA since the All-Star game. He has only pitched in one game that could have resulted in a loss. That came on September 16, against the same Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jake Arrieta had an error that could have cost the Cubs the game.
Take away that outing, one which he still only gave up a single earned run, it is easy to say that Jake Arrieta has been the Cubs’ money pitcher.
The question Chicago Cubs fans asked was who will step up and take the leadership role. Arrieta has become the stopper and safety valve, while Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant has led the offense.
Instead of waiting for something to go awry, belief is in full effect on the north side of Chicago.
There is a great manager in the dugout overseeing things. Joe Maddon has not allowed the Cubs to get complacent, and at the same time, he has kept things light. Pushing the right buttons have made things easier. For example, who knew that the benching all-star shortstop Starlin Castro would wake him out of his malaise?
This may be the year that Chicago Cubs fans remember for years to come. Something is different about this postseason appearance in comparison to the others. There is a sense of belief. There are traces of confidence.
When you have a pitcher like Jake Arrieta taking the mound on Wednesday, to go along with a young lineup, how can a Cubs’ fan not believe?
[Photo by Mike Mcginnis / Getty Images Sport]