Cubs on Cruise, Still Know How to Use Clutch

For a few innings Sunday, it looked as though we were going to have to discuss the Cubs’ inability to put away good teams or their struggles in close games. You also had the inevitable worries that they couldn’t beat good pitching, as the final two games of a long set with the Giants came against Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. But wouldn’t you know it, the most unlikely of editors came along and tweaked the story at the last minute.

With his game-tying RBI in the 9th and game-winning hit four innings later, Jason Heyward made sure we were focused on the right things. Instead of splitting with the Giants after being up 2-0, the Cubs had taken three of four from a potential playoff opponent. Rather than lament the fact that the Cubs had hit poorly against good pitching, the story was about them holding a solid team to a .106 batting average (14-for-132).

It looked for a while as though the Cubs were playing with a hangover Monday in Milwaukee, whether because of the early start or because they’d already taken their collective foot off the gas and had settled comfortably into the right lane. As they’ve been wont to do all season, however, they dropped into third gear and blew by the Brew Crew with ease. And they did it largely on the strength of their ancillary bats, with Chris Coghlan, Tommy La Stella, and Miguel Montero accounting for much of the damage.

Of course, you could look at Monday’s game and say that it’s irrelevant because, well, it’s just the Brewers. Even the long weekend series against the Giants could be shrugged off as a few lucky breaks. Except, you know, for that batting average thing, but you can’t really expect San Fran to hit that poorly again. That’s a very pragmatic way to view things.

You could choose to elevate MadBum and Cueto to a level just above the respective Cubs pitchers who’d oppose them in the playoffs should the two teams square off again. Perhaps you feel the Giants are ready to exact revenge and you’re also worried that the Cubs take so long to get going, too often waiting until the late innings to pounce. The last few games, then, are examples of why they can’t win.

Or maybe you look at things and see that the Cubs are missing two of their back-end relievers and have been employing untested arms in higher leverage situations because that’s the kind of luxury afforded by a massive division lead. You could see that any player in the lineup is capable of delivering big hits. Kyle Hendricks is throwing as well as any starting pitcher in baseball and Jason Heyward is hitting again.

In other words, the Cubs aren’t just getting lucky. On the contrary, they’re actually getting better. If you can’t see that or if you’re still looking for reasons to dial back expectations of this team, I’m not sure why you’re even watching at this point. A month of so of being able to sit back isn’t going to hurt them come playoff time and what little areas of weakness they possess are shared in equal or greater measure by other teams.

That’s not saying a title is a foregone conclusion, far from it. Baseball’s too random to guarantee anything. But this team has more than enough horsepower to blow teams away and they’ve got more than enough good sense to know when they can cruise too.

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