Powell: Crunch Time 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

It’s not all that surprising the Cubs are here. Injuries. Off the field issues. Underperformance. It’s been an eventful 2018 for the Cubs all while playing in one of the best divisions in baseball.

“Look, we’ve grinded it out this whole year,” starter Mike Montgomery said after a 6-0 loss to the Pirates Tuesday night. “We have lot of good players, a lot of guys that have been through a lot of different things. We know what we’re facing and (we) just need to chalk this one up as a loss and move on.”

All things considered it’s pretty incredible the Cubs are still in first with five games to go. Yu Darvish made just eight starts. Kris Bryant missed significant time with a nagging shoulder. Brandon Morrow’s season ended July 15. And now Addison Russell is on administrative leave.

It hasn’t helped that the offense has gone ice cold in September.

And here is their run total in each of their last 10 home games:  0, 1, 1, 1, 3, 1, 3, 2, 3, 2.

“Well, we’re not happy,” Joe Maddon said. “It’s really coming down to the one component of the game we just haven’t been good at recently and that’s offense.”

This Cubs have pretty much dominated September under Maddon:

2015: 19-9

2016: 17-10

2017: 19-9

2018: 12-11

So, with just five games to go will the final month record look like the September’s of the past three years? Or will this be the season the division slips through the Cubs’ fingers?

“We got a resilient bunch of guys and we know where we’re at. And it’s kind of a little bit of motivation,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to bring it these last five games. Our guys know that. We’re not going to get discouraged. We’re going to regroup and get ready for (Wednesday).”

Would I be surprised if the Cubs go on to take the next four of five to slam the door shut on the rest of the NL Central? Not at all. Resilient and tough is what comes to mind when I think of Joe Maddon-led Cubs teams. But it’s tough to deny that things just feel different right now than they have in past Septembers.

The Cubs have two more with the Pirates and then a weekend set with the playoff-hungry Cardinals. Milwaukee has one more in St. Louis before a home series with the lowly Tigers.

For fans it already feels like playoff baseball with the Cubs division lead down to a half-game. For the players, they’re treating it like October, too.

“I think we got to take it like that,” Montgomery said. “I think we got to take it that every game does matter from this point on. I think our guys are equipped for that. I think mentally this kind of gives us a chance to really come together as a group and go out there and perform our best 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