CHICAGO – It was a slog at times, but the Cubs made it through the 2017 regular season.
They finished Sunday with a 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, giving them a record of 92-70.
Although that’s the lowest win total of their three playoff seasons since 2015, the important thing is they made it.
They’ll have a chance to defend their world championship beginning Friday when they play Game 1 of the best-of-five National League Division Series at Washington.
At the All-Star break, the Cubs were 43-45 and 5½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.
They traded for left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana during the break and came out and won six games, all on the road, to start the unofficial second half. The Cubs went 17-12 in August and 19-9 in September.
“I just think it took us a while to get back really into the flow of things,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who batted leadoff Sunday and took only one at-bat. “The first half was really a grind mentally more than anything. It was long. ‘There’s four months left. There’s five months left. There’s six months left.’ You get to the second half, and it’s more of a sprint.
“We kept going. You see that light at the end of the tunnel where you don’t have to really save anything, just kind of lay it all out there.
“I just think everyone kind of came together more when the times were, quote, unquote, tough. Guys just came together a little more and played more Cubs-style baseball.”
Manager Joe Maddon pointed to several factors for the second-half surge, the most important being the starting pitching. After the All-Star break, Cubs starters turned in an ERA of 3.36.
“That’s probably the biggest thing,” Maddon said. “Obviously the run differential, we went from zero, but that’s also part of the better pitching always. I think it started with the starting pitching. Obviously the offense responded better. We had some guys hurt, and they eventually got well.”
Another aspect was Maddon’s approach. Because the Cubs were coming off a short offseason, he allowed things to play out, got his players rest and allowed the talent to come to the fore in the end.
“Honestly, for me, it’s about the read, to not push too hard too quickly, I think that was important,” he said. “Retrospectively, I’m trying to learn lessons all the time. I was talking about it all year, but you actually have to do it. To not be too concerned too early about the lack of performance and understanding that coming off a tough two years and just letting it play out.
“Post All-Star break, that’s obvious, if you look at the record from that point to right now. A lot of it had to do with not pushing too hard too quickly. And I think the starting pitching set the tone once again.”
The Cubs will take a complete day off Monday. They’ll work out at Wrigley Field on Tuesday and Wednesday before flying to Washington on Wednesday afternoon and then working out at Nationals Park on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s series opener.
“I’m going to have a meeting on Tuesday, and I intend it to be very brief,” Maddon said. “There’s not a whole lot to talk about, meaning there’s nothing I can say that’s going to be stirring, motivational, substantive in the sense that it’s going to change their minds about anything.
“I just want our guys to go out and continue doing what we’ve been doing since the All-Star break. No different. Go out and play, play unencumbered, mentally freely. Just play the game we’ve learned to play the last couple of years. That’s it.
“I think more than anything, I have so much faith in our guys right now to just go play. I don’t anticipate any kind of nervousness over anything from our guys.
“I anticipate our guys going out and playing the game that we’ve come to play. That’s what I’m looking forward to watch.”