How did Chicago Cubs claim National League Central? By focusing on big picture

If there's one thing the Cubs winning the National League Central title should have taught everyone is that in baseball, it's always wise to take the long view.

That's not easy to do in this age of hot takes and even hotter tweets.

When the Cubs struggled in April and May, fans and media wanted them to snap out of their World Series hangover.

By the time the all-star break rolled around and the Cubs were 43-45 and 5½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, panic was about to set in, and many wondered whether the Cubs would be “sellers” at the all-star break and trade away veterans with expiring contracts.

But over 162 games, the truth always comes out, and the truth is that the Cubs are the best team in the Central, and it really isn't as close as how the final standings will read come Sunday.

As I made my rounds in the Busch Stadium clubhouse Wednesday night, I was able to ask members of the organization about the importance of taking the long view. Despite the bubbly that was being tossed about and consumed, I heard amazingly clearheaded answers from members on four levels of the organization: ownership, executive, manager and player. Here is what each had to say.


Team chairman Tom Ricketts is always upbeat. Even in spring trainings before dismal seasons, he predicted “great” years. Coming off last year's World Series title, Ricketts has a better idea of what great looks like and that it's important not to panic.

“That wasn't depressing for me, knowing that you have probably, or at least on paper, the best guys, and you know you have guys who have strong character,” he said of the team's record at the break. “You know baseball is a numbers game. Over time, there will be a lot of mean (regression) or whatever you want to call it. I always kind of felt like we'd be back in the mix. Obviously, Theo (team president Epstein) stepped up and made some great trades. And the guys all started playing a little better.

”It's a long season, and you're going to find a lot of little setbacks. Fighting through that is critical. Without character, without guys to take accountability, without guys that kind of own the event, you're not going to get there. But we have those kinds of guys.”


Epstein is presiding over three straight playoff appearances after three years of a painful rebuild.

The decision to buy or sell at the July 31 trading deadline would have been his along with that of general manager Jed Hoyer.

“Every year has its own arc — ‘15 was great because there weren't many expectations for us, and we took people by surprise,” Epstein said. “We were so young and innocent. That made that special. Last year it was putting the hammer down as the best team in baseball and trying to back it up in the postseason. This year is bouncing back from a really rough first half with the World Series hangover looming over us and having to step up and elevate our play and our guys re-establishing who they are and what we stand for. They're all meaningful. The years when you can be pouring champagne at any point are special.”

The manager:

Joe Maddon was the same guy through the tough times as he was at the party Wednesday. That may have kept the Cubs on an even keel.

“What feels somewhat good about it is the read, the read being coming off of a World Series victory, expect some mental lethargy early in the season,” he said. “It's just going to be there. April and May don't supply that same kind of adrenaline that you need in August and September. It just doesn't. OK?

“When you play this game and you've been to the top, people have become adrenaline junkies, man. You need that rush to get it going, so I was aware of that. Going into it, I did not want to overreact to anything. Fortunately, the division did not run away from us.

“Of course I wanted it to happen, but it wasn't. So what's the next step here? Do you get upset? Do you start doing different methods? Or do you believe in your guys and trust your guys? How many times have I used the word ‘rest' this year? I hate being overly redundant, but I thought that was a big part of being good at this time of the year, to make sure that I did not push them too hard too early.”

The player:

You remember Jason Heyward's famous rain-delay speech during Game 7 of the World Series at Cleveland.

Heyward said the long view is the only view.

“It's important as a team to just focus on what you have in your clubhouse,” he said. “You can't focus on anything else outside — good, bad or indifferent. You can't get too high. You can't get too low. So every day we understand that, yeah, people are going to feel a certain type of way about how the team is playing for a week, for a month or whatever it is.

“You've just got to understand baseball's not easy. This is not easy. We just rose to the occasion as far as getting in. Here we go with another opportunity to play the last game in October.

“Here celebrating, we have ownership that's unbelievable, that wants to win. They back up every word that they've ever spoken since I've been a part of this organization. They come through. Front office, the same. To me, attitude reflects leadership, and it starts there. Then you've got Joe and you've got our coaching staff. You've got our players, our veteran guys. We've got the experience we've built over the last couple of years. There's a lot of makeup in that, a lot of character in that.”

Scouting report

Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field

TV: Comcast SportsNet Friday and Saturday; WGN Sunday

Radio: WSCR 670-AM

Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Jose Quintana (7-3 with Cubs) vs. Robert Stephenson (5-6) Friday at 1:20 p.m.; Jon Lester (12-8) vs. Jackson Stephens (2-0) Saturday at 3:05 p.m.; Jake Arrieta (14-10) vs. Deck McGuire (0-1) Sunday at 2:20 p.m.

At a glance: The Reds will finish last in the National League Central, but first baseman Joey Votto alone is worth watching this team. Entering Thursday, he had a line of .319/.454/.576 with 174 hits, 36 home runs and 99 RBI. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is no slouch, either, at .274/.394/.510 with 156 hits, 32 homers and 109 RBI going into Thursday. The Reds can hit, but their pitching staff was dead last in ERA (5.18) entering Thursday. The Cubs ranked sixth (4.01) in the NL. All eyes will be on Arrieta Sunday as he tunes up for the playoffs after a subpar start at St. Louis this week.

Next: NLDS Games 1-2 vs. Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Oct. 6 and 7

— Bruce Miles

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.