Late last week the Chicago Cubs clinched the NL Central and secured their place in the 2016 MLB Postseason.
And while they’ve already sent forth their advance scouts to begin watching potential playoff opponents, the Cubs’ first game of the postseason doesn’t actually happen for a little over two weeks.
Between now and then, the Cubs still have twelve more regular season games (including three more against a potential playoff competitor in the Cardinals) and couple of loose ends to tie up – both individually and as a team.
Not that you’d expect any less, but manager Joe Maddon is very aware of this reality and will not let his team lose sight of the opportunity presented by the next two weeks.
With October in mind, but the next two weeks on tap, Maddon met with his team prior to yesterday’s series-opener against the Reds. In that meeting, he tried to reiterate some of the things they discussed and worked on in Spring Training, while reminding players that there is still plenty of things to do, even after clinching.
Of course, the one collective box yet unchecked is clinching the best record in the National League. If accomplished, the Cubs will guarantee themselves home field advantage throughout the NL half of the playoffs and win the benefit of facing the Wild Card team in the NLDS. So far, the Cubs have set themselves up nicely for that scenario (the magic number is down to 5), but haven’t quite finished the job just yet. To be fair, clinching seems like a foregone conclusion at this point.
Instead, Maddon wants his team (as individuals) to use these two weeks wisely.
Specifically, Maddon wants his players to really consider what, where, and how they can improve their game – whether it’s things they’ve struggled with in the past or even things to which they’ve excelled. Improvement is improvement and it takes practice, hard work, and real-game opportunities. These next two weeks aren’t a break, then, they’re an opportunity for improvement that must be taken advantage of.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Maddon wants his players to forget about mechanics at this point and just play. To think “what is required of me right now” and execute it. To be self-aware, and in the moment. There is no more time for adjustments, swing-changes, or alterations. Now, these guys just need to play, play hard, play well, and be ready beat the other guys when the playoff bell rings.