‘There’s a lot of script left to be written’: How Theo Epstein views Cubs’ final stretch
The Cubs have 15 games remaining on their schedule after Thursday night’s win over the Reds.
With the Cardinals splitting their doubleheader against the Tigers Thursday, the Cubs now hold a 3-game lead over the second-place St. Louis squad.
As the NL Central race gets down to the wire, Theo Epstein gave his perspective on where he feels the Cubs stand right now.
“We’re in that spot where we’re atop the division, but we have a lot of work to do,” Epstein said before Thursday’s contest. “Still a lot of work remaining to accomplish one of our goals and win the division. We haven’t really played all that well for a while now, so feel kind of fortunate to be in the spot that we’re in and have this opportunity in front of us.
“It would certainly be nice to find another gear and start playing well down the stretch — bookend the season with good stretches of play like we had at the beginning. I think certainly it’s all of our hopes and expectations that we close strong that way, too. The standings will take care of themselves and we’ll have some momentum going into the playoffs if we’re able to do that.
“But with the short season where we are right now, obviously nothing’s been determined. A lot of big games ahead and a lot of guys individually and us collectively as a team can define our season by how we perform over the course of  games.”
As Epstein mentioned, the Cubs jumped out to a 12-3 start to the shortened 2020 campaign. They’ve gone 14-16 since, but the final couple weeks will play a big role in determining the team’s fate.
“There’s a lot of script left to be written,” Epstein said.
As they work to regain their early-season form, the Cubs have maintained their spot in the driver’s seat of the division.
At the moment, the Cardinals represent the biggest challenger. But they play 21 games over the final 17 days of the season without an off-day and that grueling schedule could very well come back to haunt them.
They also lost their best reliever Thursday to injury:
Giovanny Gallegos has a groin injury and is going for imaging. Shildt thought it was his right leg but wasn’t entirely sure. #stlcards— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) September 11, 2020
The Brewers are in third place in the NL Central and they’re 19-22 on the season with a -20 run differential (and that’s after a 19-0 victory Wednesday). But they also have 10 games remaining against the Cardinals, so that could be beneficial for the Cubs if those two teams beat up on each other down the stretch.
The Reds are 19-25 and 6.5 games behind the Cubs in the division.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are inching closer to full health as pitchers Tyler Chatwood, José Quintana and Andrew Chafin have all taken positive steps forward in their return from injury.
Chatwood and Quintana threw from flat ground Thursday and are expected to throw bullpens in the coming days (Chatwood on Saturday, Quintana on Sunday). Chafin — a veteran left-handed relief pitcher the Cubs acquired ahead of the trade deadline — threw a 25-pitch bullpen Thursday and looked strong, the team said.
Epstein acknowledged the first goal on the Cubs’ checklist right now is to lock up first place in the NL Central. They also have their sights set on playing deep into October and Epstein sees a clear path to getting to that point via the star-studded lineup that plated 8 runs in Thursday’s win.
“We haven’t really had sustained offense here,” Epstein said. “We’re gonna need our best hitters to produce in order to accomplish that. We’ve gotten solid contributions from elsewhere in the lineup. It hasn’t all come together yet, but there’s still time to define ourselves this season.
“I think the nature of this year, I don’t think anyone’s gonna put too much import on individual statlines or individual performances. What ultimately will be remembered is how we handle things, what we do as a team. One big hit down the stretch to win us a big game and win us the division or one big hit in October — a great October performance — can define a season. It’s just a different year that way. So I think the script is yet to be written.”