September is here, making October that much closer for Cubs, fans

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Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, left, takes a photo as teammates and staff pose in the background Sunday night at Dodger Stadium. They wore pajamas for an overnight flight to Chicago.

The first five months of the Cubs’ season were important. April, May, June, July and August, each of them full of meaning written in capital letters. Wonderful months for a young, resilient team and a parched fan base.

But starting Tuesday, with the calendar flipping to September, everything suddenly gets much more real. It means the playoffs are one month away, close enough to taste. The last time the Cubs were in the playoffs was 2008, so forgive some of their fans for not immediately recognizing the taste. Hint: It tastes like October.

The Cubs are in fine position, 5.5 games ahead of the Giants for the second wild-card spot in the National League. Barring a disaster – a phrase a veteran observer of this franchise does not use flippantly – they should be participating in the postseason.

It’s true: Other Cubs teams should have and could have but didn’t. Bad things having happened in the 106 years since the club last won a World Series, and Chicagoans can recite them like the Pledge of Allegiance.

But so far, the 2015 version has shown no tendency toward falling apart. If anything, it has sneered at the idea that a young team should be in awe of where it’s at, 19 games over .500. Play stupid, veteran pitcher Jon Lester has preached to his younger teammates, and they have, going through life blissfully unaware that the stress of a playoff race should be getting to them.

It’s no surprise that manager Joe Maddon chose Sunday night to have his players (and himself) don pajamas for the flight home to Chicago after Jake Arrieta had no-hit the Dodgers. Everything gets a lot more serious in September for contenders. Players get tighter. Tempers get shorter. In Maddon’s mind, nothing staves off nerves like a onesie. We’ll see whether it works, but at a minimum, Casual Friday should be ashamed of itself.

Cubs fans deserve more, and September is the first step toward getting it. There will be days autumn is in the air. Some of the ivy at Wrigley Field might start turning red toward the end of the month. A baseball team and a fan base will almost be able to reach out and touch the postseason.

Twenty-eight games in 30 days. Now it’s real.


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