Powell: It’s Going To Be A Fight To The Finish For The Cubs

PHOTO: Chicago, Illinois - October 7, 2016 Chicago Cubs Sign at Wrigley Field major league baseball team post season. Courtesy of Dave Plier/Retail First/Kent Weakley/501667204

By Kevin Powell

This is not what the Cubs wanted or needed. But here we are with 19 games remaining on their schedule, and the Cubs are in a tight division race with not one, but two teams.

“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” Addison Russell said after a 3-2 loss to the Brewers that cut their lead to just one game in the Central. “I feel like this year the rain delays have been the story.  We’ve played a tough schedule. And then this back stretch, being on for 23 days, and maybe even going back to Washington – the schedule has been brutal this year. But we have no choice but to go through it and strap it on when it’s game time.”

In 2016 the Cubs clinched the division with two weeks to go and then secured the top-seed in the NL a week later. That allowed Joe Maddon to rest players and get his club healthy for October. In 2017 they didn’t clinch the division until the fifth to last day, they played an intense series with the Nationals and by the time they got to the NLCS to face the Dodgers they looked gassed.

And now the Cubs are on a stretch of 23 games in 23 days. And 30 games in 30 days if Thursday’s scheduled off day does get wiped out because of a makeup game with the Nationals.

“Any time you go on the road for whatever how many days that was,” Jon Lester said, “If you come out at the other end a game or two over .500 or at .500 – with the amount of games we’ve played in a row – I think guys feel good about it. It just so happens we catch (the Brewers) on the back end of the stretch, unfortunately.”

No Darvish. Brandon Morrow’s return is iffy. And Lester left Monday’s game with lower back tightness. And even though Maddon and Lester didn’t seem overly concerned with it in postgame interviews it’s worth monitoring down the stretch.

These are problems just about every team in baseball has – injuries and late season fatigue. But Milwaukee and St. Louis aren’t going away any time soon, and this is going to be a fight to the finish.

“We’ve just got to keep up with the positive attitude,” Russell added. “(We need to) go out there and just have some fun. We’re in the driver’s seat in this thing right now and there’s no better feeling than that going into the last three weeks in baseball. But, yea, we’ve just got to keep being positive.”

Every time you felt the Cubs had a chance to build some breathing room over Milwaukee and St. Louis they just couldn’t seem to find a way to shut the door. Injuries haven’t helped. Neither has the schedule. But the Cubs are going to have to find a way to scrap their way to a division title.

“There’s never any panic,” Daniel Murphy said. “There wasn’t any panic in Milwaukee – when we lost the first two and we won that last game on the way out of there – and I don’t feel that now.”

The Cubs have two more against the Brewers and three more with the Cardinals who are now just 3.5 games back.

It’s only mid-September, but it’s certainly beginning to feel like October baseball.

Kevin Powell covers Chicago baseball for WGN Radio and anchors sports on The Roe Conn Show with Anna Davlantes, M-F/3-7pm. Follow on twitter @kpowell720