Constable: Cubs are lovable losers but not chokers

  • You know it's been a good summer for Cubs fans when one of the biggest questions going into September is whether fifth-starter Kyle Hendricks can beat out his teammates to win the Cy Young Award.

    You know it's been a good summer for Cubs fans when one of the biggest questions going into September is whether fifth-starter Kyle Hendricks can beat out his teammates to win the Cy Young Award. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/1/2016 5:41 AM

As a lifelong Cubs fan, I've rolled into plenty of Septembers wishing for some postseason drama, even if that meant worrying the Cubs might choke. The Cubs have earned a reputation for losing during the last hundred years or so, but the team doesn't choke. It's hard to choke when you don't have a seat at the dinner table.

In 2008, the Cubs had the best record in baseball and got swept in the opening round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a series that was dismal, but not a choke. The closest any Cubs teams have come to choking is 1984, when they needed one more win to get to the World Series but lost three straight on the road to the San Diego Padres, or 2003, when the Cubs were five outs from going to the World Series before losing Games 6 and 7 at Wrigley Field to the Florida Marlins.

 
The summer of 1969 was a glorious one for Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo (10), who clicked his heels after fun wins. September, however, was a different story, thanks to a New York Mets team that played amazing baseball all month.
The summer of 1969 was a glorious one for Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo (10), who clicked his heels after fun wins. September, however, was a different story, thanks to a New York Mets team that played amazing baseball all month. - Associated Press

People who think the 1969 Chicago Cubs choked are wrong.

My favorite Cubs team of all time (pending outcome for the 2016 Cubs), that 1969 squad led most of the season and wilted down the stretch. They became lovable losers, but those players didn't choke.

The 1969 New York Mets played amazing baseball the last two months of the season. The Mets went 21-10 in August and topped that with a record of 23-7 in September. The Cubs had a good August, winning 18 of 29 games. Then they faded in September, going 8-17. But that didn't matter because New York was just too good.

Had the Cubs played winning 15-10 baseball in September, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and those other legends would have still had to buy tickets to the World Series. That strong finish would have given the Cubs 99 wins. The Mets won 100. With no wild-card possibilities back then, the Cubs still would have missed the postseason.

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Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester celebrates a clutch out during a recent game. Lester, in the running for postseason honors, has celebrated a lot of outs this summer.
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester celebrates a clutch out during a recent game. Lester, in the running for postseason honors, has celebrated a lot of outs this summer. - Associated Press

According to Major League Baseball's "postseason projections" probability website, the 2016 Cubs have a zero percent chance of missing the playoffs.

Starting with tonight's game against the San Francisco Giants, the Cubs have 28 games in September -- and two in October in Cincinnati against the hapless Reds.

What if the Cubs turn in the worst September in franchise history? What then?

Since the team now known as the Cubs began playing baseball in 1876, it has turned in some clunker Septembers. In 1894, the team went 9-17 in September, only to turn in a 19th century-worst record of 7-14 three years later. The team kicked off the 20th century with an even worse 6-18 record in 1901, setting the bar so low that mark would endure for almost 100 years. In 2000, the Cubs hit the franchise low point for September, with a painfully bad 6-22 record en route to an overall record of 65-97, in last place, 30 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So, what happens if this year's team somehow manages the worst September in Cubs' history by going 5-23, or even 5-25 if we add two losses in October?

That worst-case scenario would leave the Cubs with 90 wins.

The Cardinals would have to win 21 or 22 of their last 32 games to win the division and drop the Cubs into a probably playoff position. The Pirates probably would have to go 24-8 down the stretch to bump the Cubs from the wild card. Neither the Cardinals or the Pirates are the '69 Mets, and it's far more likely that the Cubs will go 23-5 in September than 5-23.

"September this year feels different from all those other years," Cubs radio broadcaster Pat Hughes told listeners during a slow point of one Cubs victory over the Pirates.

"You've got a 14-game lead, so that's going to feel different," added broadcast partner Ron Coomer.

Cubs fans should know how to relax in September. Rough starts, May fades, June swoons, July injuries and the dog days of August generally relegate Sept. 1 to a chance to spread out at Wrigley Field, watch the ivy turn brown and guess what professions most Cubs players would be better suited for than baseball.

Much of the drama this September for Chicago Cubs fans is reduced to whether Anthony Rizzo, left, or Kris Bryant will walk off with the MVP award.
Much of the drama this September for Chicago Cubs fans is reduced to whether Anthony Rizzo, left, or Kris Bryant will walk off with the MVP award. - Associated Press

Cubs fans enter this September with the only drama being whether Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo will end up as the MVP, or if it will be Kyle Hendricks or Jon Lester who wrests the Cy Young Award from Jake Arrieta.

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