October is still but a gleaming speck on the horizon, but that didn’t stop anticipation of the postseason from leeching into the Cubs/Nationals series. I know there’s a tendency in the moment to want to ascribe all kinds of greater importance to this set, or even to one of its individual games. Playoff baseball, however, isn’t about a single game. Well, unless you’re the Pirates.
Just a day after Albert Almora picked up a game-winning RBI by doubling home Addison Russell, the two switched places. Well, except that Russell’s hit was a single and the lead he provided didn’t hold up. Either way, we’re talking about a pair of 22-year-olds who came up big in the clutch. Russell has already established a bit of a reputation for performing under pressure and we’ve long heard tell of Almora’s confident precociousness, so it’s easy to remember just how young these guys really are.
Under normal circumstances, seeing a lineup that features four players age 24 and younger might signal that a team is limping to the season’s finish line. Hot and tired from the long summer, they’re just throwing the kids into the deep end of the pool and hoping they learn to swim. The veterans are there to babysit and maybe do enough to earn a bigger payday with a better team next year. Basically, that was the Cubs just a few years ago.
It’s the Cubs now too, except there’s no stigma attached to their youth. Whether it’s Almora and Russell, Javy Baez (23), Kris Bryant (24), or Jorge Soler (24), this team isn’t just playing the kids because they have no better option. The kids are playing because they are the better options. And that’s not even considering Kyle Schwarber, himself only 23 years old. That’s saying something when you’re 44-20.
Even the youth group leaders like Ben Zobrist and Miggy Montero are pretty cool and the tweeners like Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward (both 26) fit in without being annoyingly angsty or standoffish. It’s all pretty amazing when you think about it.
So, yeah, the bullpen kind of cheesed things up after Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer in the 9th and again after Russell’s knock in the 12th. And there’s a general fear that the non-starters are, well, a non-starter when it comes to World Series talk, but I’ll save further pontificatation on that topic for another time or a better writer. Suffice to say the current roster has gotten the Cubs to where they are and will be adjusted when and how the powers that be see fit. Huh, that was pretty easy.
It sucks to lose, particularly when you’ve had victory in hand and when you strike Bryce Harper out twice in the same at-bat but somehow manage to walk him anyway. I’d love to screed on home plate ump Bob Davidson, but the fact of the matter is that the Cubs simply didn’t execute pitches consistently enough. There’s a part of me that feels like the team that gets a little break — like Harper not getting rung up on a pair of pitches that were much better than those being called strikes to other hitters, namely Anthony Rendon — is the one that manages to come out on top.
The Cubs took all four games between these two teams at Wrigley back in May, roughing up Max Scherzer and making Jayson Werth appear lost in the process. They had won Wednesday’s game, twice, to ensure another series victory. In the end, though, we watched Scherzer punch out 11 Cubs Monday and Werth punch a game-winning hit off the wall two days later. And then we watched Scherzer butt-punch Werth during the course of their celebratory postgame melee. Full circle, baby.
In tight games, a slight change one way or the other can make all the difference. And when it comes to slight changes, the Cubs still have all kinds of opportunity to learn and adjust. Whether that comes in the form of mechanics or approach, or even the roster itself, youth will continue to serve this team well. I should probably stop before I turn into some kind of hackneyed platitude machine, so I’ll leave you with this:
Try not to overreact to one loss. But if you do have to react, don’t do it like this.