Looking back at it, the last week of the MLB baseball season is often been filled with angst. I do agree with what I wrote back in 2019, I’d rather be in the position of being disappointed that a good team did not succeed than always rooting for bad teams who occasionally surprise. The Cubs lost last night after having a 6-0 lead. In many ways the game encapsulates their current state, some good pitching to gain a lead or stay close, but not enough pitching to sustain the lead through 9 innings. In that state all other facets of the game have to be played near flawlessly, so a fielding error can (and last night was) be fatal. Good news is that the one loss does not put them out of the playoff standings, but they cannot lose two games in a row now and when they do lose they are at the mercy of how other teams perform.

    I’ve turned an emotional corner regarding this year’s Chicago Cubs. I now don’t expect them to make the playoffs, they are clearly in a downward spiral that they don’t have the manpower left to pull up from. I am not going to care whether they make the playoffs and focus on enjoying these remaining games.

    Cubs starter Justin Steele got pounded by Pirates last night, and the Cubs lost 7-13. Fortunately, the Marlins also lost so the Cubs maintain the half game lead for the third wild card. My buddy said he thinks the Cubs pitching staff has nothing left in the tank, and that certainly looked to be the case last night. Steele is the best of the Cubs pitchers and he was cruising until he hit an apparent wall in the fourth inning.

    Why The Cubs Are Fading

    The World Series, like most major sports championships, is won by defense. In baseball that mainly translates to pitching, but also fielding. When you play the same team in a playoff series your hitters usually face the opponent’s best pitching, consequently you should plan for 3 or fewer runs scored and that means you want your pitching to hold the opponent to 3 or fewer runs.

    Since the beginning of September the Cubs have been in playoff games. Nearly all of the teams they faced need to beat them to move ahead of the Cubs in the Wild Card playoff standings. By my count the Cubs have played 17 games so far in September and in 7 of them their opponent scored 3 or fewer runs. My conclusion is that the Cubs pitching is simply not good enough to win in the playoffs.

    I think my conclusion holds if you look at the larger body of work over the season. I expect that in a high percentage of the games the Cubs won they scored 4 or more runs, too many of those they needed to score 4 or more runs. During the regular season it is not surprising that your hitters will have more success because they will be in many situations where they face poor pitching.

    A team built to win in the MLB playoffs has the pitching that more often than not can hold their opponent to 3 or fewer runs. Truth is the Cubs got through the 2023 season with only one reliable starting pitcher, maybe two (Steele for sure, and possibly Hendricks). Stroman and Taillon have not been consistent and Taillon has been aweful. Javier Assad joined the starting rotation too late in to the season so it is really hard to assess his reliability. The bullpen is no better, only Merrywather and Alzolay has been reliable, though Leiter is borderline.

    The fact that the Cubs are in a playoff race is much more important this year than they actually make the playoffs, and the goal long term is be winning division championships and not gain a playoff berth via the wild card. While at the beginning of the season there was some hope the Cubs could compete with the Brewers for the NL Central division championship, I think it was evident early on through head to head games with the Brewers that this Cubs team is not as good or better than the Brewers. Sure, the Cubs can win any game, but can they win a series?

    Bottom line, the Chicago Cubs are on schedule for their long term goals of winning division titles and the World Series in upcoming years. Clearly, the Cubs need to improve their pitching. Jordan Wicks has shown he is a piece of the puzzle for next year, and we can hope Taillon will return to the how he pitched in the past. Stroman might be back, but with Hendricks being another year older I think the Cubs need to sign at least two reliable starting pitchers during the off season as well as keep Merryweather.

    From the lineup perspective, I think the Cubs should be aggressive in their attempt to sign Bellinger, but I doubt he stays and his departure will create a big gap in their lineup. Maybe youngsters Morel, Mervis, or Crow-Armstrong can help fill that gap but all are too inexperienced with MLB pitching. Consequently, the Cubs need to sign at least one big-name hitter to maintain their current starting lineup performance.

    Finally, the biggest question of the off season might be whether David Ross has what it takes to manage a championship caliber baseball team. Every manager makes questionable lineup and in-game decisions, and this is Ross' first manager job so we need to keep in mind that he is learning on the job. I personally can’t pin the current Cubs situation on Ross, the bottom line is that the players have to perform and they are not performing. Ross has made lineup changes and pitching changes, as far as I can tell he is doing everything he can to try and have the Cubs win games. I would not be in a hurry to replace Ross unless there is a championship experienced person to replace him. So, David Ross' fate, like Rick Renteria’s was in 2015, may be decided more by who is available rather than by his own performance.

    I am frustrated by and mad about the Cub’s performance this month, but I am mostly mad at the Cubs veterans who have under performed with the pressure on. Frankly, if it weren’t for Suzuki the Cubs would probably would have a longer losing streak. Swanson, Bellinger, and Happ have not met expectations as the veteran leaders. In the big picture I am happy about where the Cubs are, they met my expectations for this season and look to be on track of near year and beyond. All of the younger Cub players who have never been in this position of a playoff race in September are gaining valuable experience of how to deal with the pressure, and in my opinion experience matters most.

    We are at the start of the second to the last week of the 2023 Major League Baseball season with the Chicago Cubs in the midst of a five game losing streak. Last week has been frustrating and hopefully behind us. The Cubs have played themselves out of any chance of winning the NL Central and have moved to a third place tie with the Florida Marlins in the Wild Card standings, trailing the Diamondbacks, who just swept the Cubs, by a half game. Disappointed as I am, I also know in the big picture this experience is good for the future of the team, and should be a pleasant surprise considering how bad the team as at the beginning of June.

    Welcome To September Baseball

    As of this morning the Chicago Cubs are 3 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the N.L. Central lead and have a 2 game lead in the N.L. Wildcard. Nearly all MLB teams are not playing today. On Friday (September 1) the Cubs will have a chance to gain more ground on the Brewers by virtue of a double header, whereas the Brewers play the Phillies. The double header is in Cincinnati and the Reds are chasing the Cubs for the Wildcard, so both teams have playoff positions to play for and therefore the games will be tense.

    Time For The Chicago Cubs To Embrace The Pressure

    The 162 game schedule is a big part of what makes Major League Baseball unique among professional sports in the United States because it tends to force differences in how games are approached throughout the season. No team is ever going to be undefeated, the current best team, the Atlanta Braves, has won a little over 65% of their games. The MLB season is a marathon meaning that in most cases a game is not treated as “must win.”

    Oddly, while a long schedule means most games are not “must win,” for some teams, earlier than they would like, the season transitions to “it doesn’t matter whether they win or lose” because they are out of playoff contention. As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan it has been my experience more often than not that the Cubs are out of playoff contention by the end of May or early June. Further, as a lifelong Cubs fan, I have learned it is much more fun watching games year after year when the team is playing meaningful games in September. I would much rather have the team lose in the playoffs every year than have the team out the playoffs by June in the majority of seasons.

    So, in baseball, a transition occurs over the course of a season where teams move from playing to win games to playing to must win games. The benefit of expanding the number of playoff teams is that more teams start playing more “must win” games in September than in years past. In my experience, teams with players who have the most experience winning “must win” games are best positioned for long term success.

    As an aside, it should be obvious why wild card teams, which have worse records than division winners, have had so much success in the playoffs, it’s because they usually play more “must win” games during the last month of the season and through that gain valuable experience and confidence. Turns out there is a big difference between “wanting to win” and “needing to win.”

    At this point of a long 2023 season, the Chicago Cubs are starting the transition in to “must win” territory. Nobody associated with the Cubs is going to admit publicly that the games they are playing this week and next are must win, but it’s a mistake if they don’t start viewing the games as such, in fact they ought to embrace the transition. As Billy Jean King is often quoted as saying, “Pressure is a privilege.” The pressure of being in “must win” mode as the calendar flips from August to September is a badge of success.

    The unpredictable nature of sports mean should the Cubs make the playoffs they could win the World Series. The probability of the 2023 Cubs winning the World Series is not high, not like it was for the 2016 team. However, the experience of playing as many “must win” games as possible over the course of the final month of the season is huge! The Cubs are exactly where they hoped to be at this time of the season and now players who have not had the experience with this type of pressure gain the experience that will provide dividends for years beyond.

    I was mad the Cubs were crushed by the Brewers last night because I desire the immediate gratification of winning the N.L. Central this year, but I am happy that the young Cubs players such as their current best starting pitcher, Justin Steele, are getting this experience playing these games. However, the full value of that experience will not be realized if the team, from top to bottom, doesn’t consider these games “must win.”

    The 2023 MLB Season is transitioning from “would like to win” to “must win” for the Cubs, and I am looking for the team to embrace the pressure.

    Cubs vs. Tigers at Comerica Park, Detroit, Michigan

    The Chicago Cubs are playing the Detroit Tigers in Detroit this week, and I went to the Monday and Tuesday night games. The Cubs won 7-6 Monday night in a game when the Cubs gained and gave up a four run lead but hung on to win. The Tigers won Tuesday night 8-6, but the Cubs had a 4-3 run lead after the top of the fourth inning and then gave up 4 runs to the Tigers in the bottom of the inning. The Cubs scored 2 runs in the top of the fifth inning to pull within one run, but scored no more while the Tigers added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning. As of today the Cubs record is 65-60 and they are 3.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central division and have the second wild card for the NL playoffs.

    Highlights of the games include seeing Cody Bellinger, former NL MVP, playing for the Cubs, he will likely not re-sign with the Cubs at the end of the season. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera was the DH for the Tigers in Tuesday’s game, possibly his last game ever against the Chicago Cubs. Click to see the pictures I took during the games on Monday and Tuesday.

    Finally, I captured a foul ball during the game on Tuesday. It was fumbled by the guy in front of me and I grabbed after it landed on the steps next to me.

    Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!

    Go Cubs Go!

    Yesterday the Cubs beat the Braves, who by record is the best team in the National League. Today will be a test to see whether the Cubs can beat a better team in a series. Given how this is playing out, I think the experience of playing meaningful games through September is going to be huge for the near future Cub teams. Even if they lose Stroman and Bellinger during the offseason this experience for the maturity of the team is with every penny spent.

    I am seeing lots of articles about the demise of the PAC-12 college conference. To an older guy such as myself I find the current conference names no longer make sense. Granted, the Big Ten doesn’t explicitly name a region but it has been for Midwest colleges all my life, west coast colleges mess that up. So, I say you might as well just change the conference names.

    One thing I do wonder, with the PAC-12 disbanded what of the Rose Bowl? While the CFB championship long ago broke the Big Ten/PAC-12 match ups, they did try to hold to that when not hosting the championship. Now what?

    Reading what I wrote about the results at the end of the MLB trade deadline last year where the Chicago Cubs did not sell Wilson Contreras or Ian Happ, amazed by how much changes in one season. The Cubs extended Happ this year and honestly have not missed Contreras. Further, it seems the new cornerstone of the Cubs is Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson. Better yet, the Cubs bought at this trade deadline and their playoff chances are very much alive.

    The game last night encapsulates why it has been frustrating to follow the Chicago Cubs this season. They have the hitting to put up a huge number of runs and the pitching to enable them to win, but as prone they are to score 20 runs in one night, today they might score only 2. Too many losing streaks up to this season has prevented them from being in first place right now. Good new is that they have more games against the Brewers and Reds that enable them to close the gap.

    The Chicago Cubs winning streak ended at eight games today with a loss to the Cardinals in the last game of the season against their division rival. (Let that sink in a moment, thanks due to the new “balanced” MLB schedule.) Obviously, the streak had to end eventually, but the Cards have proven to be very beatable and we had every reason to expect the Cubs to win today too. Tomorrow night the Cubs start a four game series against the Reds at home, and they need to win the first game as they can no longer afford losing streaks. Even more importantly, the Cubs are 3.5 games behind the Reds in the NL Central standings and we do not want to fall further behind. The Cubs have an opportunity to pull closer to the Reds and Brewers this week and therefore solidify being in the hunt for the remainder of the season. Losing 3 out of 4 of these games against the Reds might actually be too difficult to overcome. Ross needs to be putting the best lineup in every game for this series, I do not want to see Mancini at first and Morel in place other than DH. Play Gomes in all of these games. Cubs need to treat this series like the playoffs!

    The Chicago Cubs beat St. Louis last night and evened their record to 51-51, and sit at 5.5 games behind first place in the NL Central and 4 games back in the Wild Card. In short, a better record and potential than last year. The sell off really didn’t happen last year, but this year there is much debate about what they should do with Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman, both who are really good but with whom the Cubs lose contract control at the end of the season. I think the Cubs' chances to make the playoffs this year are real, and at a minimum ownership owes the fans a competitive team for the remainder of the season. I say they should keep both Bellinger and Stroman and make serious intent to sign them at the end of the season. The farm system is not in dire need of prospects.

    Right now Cody Bellinger is carrying the Chicago Cubs, so when he is traded some time in the next couple of weeks the Cubs will stop being competitive for a playoff position. Once again the season will be about watching guys called up from the minors. Ricketts has to make a clean sweep of the front office and manager, he can’t keep accepting mediocrity.

    Hope Is Not A Strategy

    I am resigned to the fact that Chicago Cubs are not going to be a playoff team this year, which makes them sellers for the upcoming trade deadline, and it is this idea of “selling” that makes me mad. We knew that Cody Bellinger was only going to be with the Cubs for a year and if he played to any amount of his capability would be a mid season trade, so his leaving is not a problem. What I don’t want to see is the Cubs trading Marcus Stroman.

    Starting pitching is the foundation of a MLB team and the Cubs have no real pitching prospects in their farm system. Every free agent pitcher not on their team that the Cubs sign is an unknown. Jameson Taillon is the most recent case in point, the Cubs didn’t really know what they were getting when they signed Taillon but they hoped he would be as good as he was in previous seasons. When you sign a player not on your team you hope they will perform as you expect, but hope is not a strategy!

    Stroman has been the best Cubs pitcher the last two years. You can make the claim he is one of the best pitchers in baseball and the Cubs should know best about his health, his mental make up, and his skills. In other words, Stroman is a known asset, and when you are building a team I think general managers should bias what they know about the players on their team.

    If the Cubs trade Stroman, to me that not only means this season (2023) is down the drain, it is also that they are not closer to making the playoffs in 2024. What such a trade tells me is that the Cubs continue to tread mediocrity and have no real plan for returning to the playoffs. Further, if the Cubs trade Stroman and thus are sellers at the deadline ownership must make a change in the front office and the manager. I don’t think Hoyer has any real idea how to build the team, he is just hoping to improve, and hope is not a plan.

    The “buyers and sellers” phenomenon is not good for Major League Baseball. The way teams treat free agency is destroying how they build their teams and farm systems for continued success. Now, because most teams in baseball are not very good, most teams are unloading their best players mid season for prospects that might never make it to the majors or at best won’t be on their team until 3 years down the road. Every off season teams buy a bunch of free agents (basically creating new rosters every year), all who are unknowns, and hope they perform well enough to form a competitive team. Most teams find their hopes were ill conceived and they rinse and repeat.

    Put it another way, nearly all MLB general managers are doing their job no differently than fantasy baseball managers. Problem is, fantasy baseball is not the real world. MLB does not build rosters based on a draft of the entire pool of available players. Right now the Cubs, and most MLB teams, are building new rosters each year from a small pool of unknowns. I am looking for leadership from the Cubs with a real plan and the funding from ownership to stick to the plan. It is looking more to me that Hoyer does not have a real plan and Ricketts has to find another person to run team who has a plan, otherwise he is no better than all prior owners of the Chicago Cubs.

    The MLB All-Star break is over and the Cubs play a rare Friday night game at Wrigley that I am looking forward to watching tonight to end the week. The next two weeks are critical to any hopes for the Cubs making the playoffs.

    I am a life long Chicago Cubs fan, and so that gives me the perspective of comparing the current Cubs teams to those of the past. The 2023 edition of the Chicago Cubs is frustrating because there is so much talent on the team that is not living up to its potential, and the result is very inconsistent play. Simply put, the Cubs lose too many games in a row. Really good teams don’t lose more than two games in a row, whereas the Cubs often fall in to a streak of losing 3 or more games in a row, the result is an attempt to move up in standings is like being in quick sand.

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