ST. LOUIS — As a great R&B band sang, sort of, not all that long ago: “Do you remember … being relevant in September?”
The Cubs of 2015 to 2020 knew what that was like, but since then? You’ve probably noticed, but they’ve fallen out of the business of contending for postseasons.
Ah, well. Entering a weekend series against the first-place Cardinals that began Friday at Busch Stadium, the Cubs at least had some life, if not much cachet. Their 15-15 record in August wasn’t exactly blistering, but it was the club’s best month since a 19-8 May in 2021, which came before losing set in and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer waved the white flag at the trade deadline. That’s the 2021 deadline, to be clear, not to be confused with the Cubs’ continued flag waving at the 2022 deadline.
Hey, 15-15 isn’t bad. Nor is the Cubs’ above-.500 record since the All-Star break, a heck of a lot better than their utterly forgettable, 22-games-under first half. A collective 3.15 ERA by the team’s starting pitchers in August was — let’s not undersell it — seriously impressive.
What does it all mean?
“From the manager’s seat, you wish [we] would’ve been healthy early in the season when we had a fully loaded bullpen,” Ross said, making reference to the ‘pen that was decimated by trades one month ago. “It showed me what I believed about this team, that it’s probably better than we were early on. …
“Maybe we’re not quite as far away as some days it feels like.”
Is he right? And does it matter? Perhaps not so much in either case if the Cubs can’t dig in a little deeper and finish the season on a strong note.
In other words, as the aforementioned band sang, let’s see if the Cubs can “change the minds of pretenders … while chasin’ the clouds away.”
Feel free to boogie along as we discuss the final full month of the Cubs’ season.
Is a strong September really important?
“I think it does matter morale-wise,” shortstop Nico Hoerner said. “It sets a standard as far as energy and an opportunity to start creating culture that builds into next year — no matter who’s around or what’s on the roster — and starts establishing pieces that can be here a long time.”
All-Star catcher Willson Contreras probably won’t be around to try to see that through. All-Star outfielder Ian Happ might be. Hoerner and second baseman Nick Madrigal are two who should be.
“I think there’s still some meaningful games left for us,” Madrigal said. “As of late, we’ve been playing a lot better baseball, and I think this next month, if we can just keep that going, would say a lot for this team and moving forward into next year.
“And I’m not just saying that. There’s been so many games over the year that we’ve been right in and just haven’t been able to pull through in late innings. Our record doesn’t show how good this team could be if we just put it together on a nightly basis. So that’s what I want to see from us the rest of the way.”
Veteran starting pitcher Marcus Stroman predicted a successful September for the Cubs because of their “awesome vibes,” a phrase that, frankly, ought to be in song lyrics if it isn’t already.
“I think so,” Stroman said, “because this team shows up wanting to play baseball and win each and every day.”
Ross cited the series in Toronto earlier this week. Though the Blue Jays took two of three, Ross was left with the feeling the teams were almost equals.
“Winning is important, period,” he said.
Ba-dee-ya, that’s a fact.