No matter what happens, the Cubs vow not to take anything for granted in 2020
“I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger…”
The words chimed out over an empty Wrigley Field Thursday night as Anthony Rizzo stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the 6th inning.
It was a quick snapshot in the win over the Brewers, but the symbolism of the moment hit home for the 2020 Cubs. They’re now 13-3, off to their best start since 1907 and they own the best record in baseball.
The secret to their success this season may lie in those song lyrics from the 1970s hit by The Faces — the Cubs core is older, wiser and their experience from the past few seasons has helped them put it all together in the early going as they try to recapture the magic of 2016.
“I feel like I’ve said it enough times this past offseason — before things got weird — that our group has done a lot of special things,” Jason Heyward said. “I think one thing and a key component is having some experience and seeing what it’s like to fail.
“Understand that, appreciate that and respect that because it’s not easy to make the postseason. It’s not easy to go out there and dominate. It’s not easy to play in this NL Central. Things that you could easily take for granted if you don’t know what it’s like to lose.
“Absolutely our focus is to go out there and play baseball and win games, even in a tough time. Results are one thing, but we gotta go about it everyday as if we gotta expect the worst and hope for the best.”
That mindset has certainly helped the Cubs this season and — more specifically — this week. When the Cardinals were hit with more positive tests last weekend and the series in St. Louis was canceled, the Cubs were smacked with four days off at a time when they wanted to keep the momentum going on the field.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, but the Cubs answered the call once again and stayed on a roll with 3 straight wins coming out of that impromptu “All-Star Break.”
“There have been so many things going on this whole year that I think nothing’s gonna faze us now,” Kyle Hendricks said Wednesday night as he pitched a gem despite more than a week between starts.
The Cubs have already been through so many twists and turns in 2020 that they’re refusing to ride the roller coaster of emotions that each day can bring.
They’re in first place by a wide margin (5.5 games) and they still haven’t had a player test positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday.
Simply put, they have responded as well as anybody could have possibly hoped in such strange circumstances in David Ross’ first season as manager.
Jon Lester likes to use the analogy that a baseball season could be like a roller coaster of ups and downs, but he said this season is more akin to a Six Flags thrill ride vs. a kiddie roller coaster.
“You gotta pack a lot of emotions into 60 games and hopefully it works out for the best in the end,” Lester said. “It’s kind of cool to have this pressure on you from Day 1. I think sometimes we can all get into the first of the month and say, ‘hey, we’ve got a long way to go.’ Obviously we can’t say that [now].
“So I feel like guys are grinding a little bit more early on. I think it shows in our at-bats. I think it shows in our approach on the mound. It’s been fun. Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Ross has obviously been a huge part of building that culture and getting everybody to pull in the same direction. That was evident even before the MLB shutdown and has only been reinforced during the pandemic.
Rizzo has also played a big role, emerging as more of a vocal leader behind the scenes about his at-bats and letting his fun-loving side come out even more.
From wearing two big, gold chains around his neck Wednesday night in Cleveland to the hand sanitizer gag on Opening Day to creating the “Where’s Rizzo?” game during summer camp, the Cubs first baseman has been living his best life this season and he’s been helping keep everybody else loose in the process.
He wants to take full advantage of his team’s opportunity this season and soak it all in as an uncertain future awaits this Cubs core in the coming winters. And he’s leaning on the perspective he gleaned from his battle with cancer in early adulthood.
“I mean, I’m not gonna shy away from it — this could be our last year together,” Rizzo said. “I think we all know that, especially with the state of the game and who knows what’s gonna happen? This could be our last run with all our core guys. This could be my last year here — who knows?
“So I’m enjoying every second of it. When times get tough, I’ve obviously been through tough times before, so you start appreciating all the little things again that maybe you take for granted. I’m victim of it. I’m sure everyone — you guys are all victim of it. It’s the joy of the game that we’re playing for right now.
“I think it’s really showing that we’re just playing basically high school summer baseball right now. That’s how we feel like we’re playing — just going out and playing baseball and not worrying about if someone’s hitting .500 or if someone’s hitting under .200. It’s just, let’s win. Let’s pick each other up and figure it out.”
So why is everything clicking for the Cubs right now?
Hendricks doesn’t know, but offered a partial explanation:
“I think we missed baseball so much being out for so long,” he said. “It just gave us that little breather, I think. The guys are really excited to be around each other, excited to be playing the game again so maybe that has something to do with it. But regardless, I’m just happy we are where we are.”