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How many wins does it take?
How many Cubs wins before the sports commentariat in our town acknowledges that the thousands of stories about the Cubs absolutely not playing competitive baseball until 2015 were a wee bit off?
The Cubs knocked off the Giants 2-1 Sunday to complete a sweep in San Francisco and a 6-4 post-All Star Game road trip through Colorado, Arizona and the town that is home to the truly spectacular AT&T Park. I took in the game on Sunday on 'GN and amazing shots of gargantuan ocean-going vessels and soaring suspension bridges in San Francisco Bay were just routine between-innings fodder on a perfect sun-drenched day.
The win left the Cubs seven games below .500. That has to be the answer doesn't it? If the Cubs could somehow find their way all the way back to break even, then a whole bunch of people would have to re-calibrate.
Now let's not get too gaga here. Even if the Cubs stretched their win streak to 10 games (from the current three), they would still almost certainly stand at least a half-dozen games out of the second wild card spot. As of today, the Reds are there, having piled up 59 wins to 47 losses. Postseason dreams absolutely require a record of .500 or better and even then they would be a long shot during this season in which a couple non-division leaders have already separated themselves from the wild card pack.
But there is no denying that the Cubs have had the key element to successful baseball for almost two months now: Stingy starting pitching. Oh, and the bullpen has been stellar of late as well. And it was that pitching that made everything possible over the weekend. Edwin Jackson was good, Travis Wood was great and Chris Rusin was awesome on the mound for the Cubs on Friday, Sunday and Saturday, respectively.
From the start, the idea that the Cubs would pile up all this young talent during several rebuilding seasons and then set the world on fire in 2015 has been facile nonsense. That is not the way a successful baseball roster is built. Successful rosters always have a mix of young players and at least a few veterans. And a baseball team never knows exactly when it will master the alchemy of success. The builders of a squad try to put pieces together and hope it will go well. It is almost impossible to predict.
Just look at the Giants. The defending World Series champs are in disarray (48-58) despite a roster that looks an awful lot like the one that won it all nine months ago.
The Cubs will suffer at some point during the final two months of the season for the lack of veteran presence. Unless Anthony Rizzo is a Jonathan Toews-type leadership wunderkind, there will be a void at the top.
But the team played well (and in addition to the pitching, the Cubs have also been on a nice role defensively led by Starlin Castro) on a long road trip despite saying goodbye to their most prominent pitcher and hitter. The clear truth is that if the pitching holds up, they have a great chance to continue to play well. And then at some point, everyone will have to stop talking about rebuilding and start talking about the best way to win right now.
The Cubs have already completed the vast majority of their pre-trade deadline business. Kevin Gregg or Nate Schierholtz might still be traded (I would like someone to explain to me why moving the latter would be a good idea but it isn't a huge deal) before July 31. But it says here that those possible transactions wouldn't have much of an impact on the team right now. For one thing, the Cubs clearly have several flame-throwing young relievers who are ready to give closing a try.
And of course they shouldn't add any veterans down the stretch. The Cubs as they stand right now are young and hungry. Junior Lake gave the team a huge boost when he made the jump to the majors at the start of this road trip and while he slumped at the plate over the weekend, he is still a wonderful energetic, hustling presence. Let's enjoy seeing what these young guys can do.
And next year (there it is Cubs fans! Time to start saying "just wait 'til next year!), after the Cubs have added a few veterans to fill in a few holes, well, even the commentariat might acknowledge that the time is now for the North Siders.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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