Having won yesterday, the Chicago Cubs climbed back into a tie with the San Francisco Giants for the second Wild Card spot in the National League. It’s obviously way too premature to think of such things, but my mind immediately went to the one-game playoff for the (then sole) Wild Card spot in 1998 between the Cubs and the Giants. The Cubs, of course, won that game 5-3 at Wrigley Field, scoring five runs before the 9th inning, when the Giants terrified everyone by rallying for their three runs in the 9th. The 9th inning had been started by Kevin Tapani, making his first relief appearance of the season, but was ultimately locked down by Cubs closer Rod Beck, who’d joined the Cubs that year after seven years with those very Giants.
It’s a good memory. Late-season drama and an exciting win. It’s what you hope for this time of year, no?
And the Cubs now will play this year’s Giants, with whom they’re tied, later in the week. But not before they face the team on top of the Wild Card standings, the Pirates, for three games in Pittsburgh. The Cubs currently trail the Pirates by four games.
The week, then, is a critical one for the Cubs’ playoff pursuits. Taking four or more of the seven games probably leaves the Cubs in a very enviable position. Losing four probably wouldn’t be a disaster (unless all four came at the hands of the Giants), but losing five or six could be brutal.
The good news is that, after facing the Cubs, each of the Pirates and Giants go on to play a tough stretch. The Pirates face the Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets, D-Backs, and Giants, before settling into a pretty soft stretch to end the year. After the Cubs, the Giants face the Astros, Nationals, Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs (again), Cardinals and Dodgers. Their schedule also gets softer to end the year, so this may be the stretch where the Cubs need to make a run. (Then again, the Cubs’ schedule is relatively soft from here on out, after previously facing one of the toughest schedules in baseball up to the All-Star break.)
This is going to be an exciting, stressful, serious week of baseball. It’s the kind of August week we’ve been waiting for since 2009. I hope you’re prepared for the swings.