The playoffs arrived four days before October for the Cubs on Thursday.
And if the players weren’t sure when they got to the ballpark in the afternoon, manager Joe Maddon was prepared to make it clear before their series finale against the Pirates with the division lead at a perilous half-game over the idle Brewers.
“I’m going to do my postseason meeting today, because it is for me actually the beginning of the postseason,” said Maddon, who annually schedules only three team meetings — in spring training, at the All-Star break and heading into the postseason opener.
“I’m not going to wait a couple days to say something I could say today,” Maddon said on the eve of a season-ending series against the rival Cardinals, who trail the Dodgers by one game for the final NL wild-card berth.
“We’ve got to go out there and pretty much ‘free your mind’ and just go play some baseball,” Maddon said. “I have ideas I want to present to our guys.”
Maddon said it is on days like this that he most misses longtime advisor and Cubs team psychologist Ken Ravizza, who died after a heart attack in July.
“I hear his voice all the time,” Maddon said of the sports-psychology pioneer who often helped shape his messages to the team, in particular as an avid proponent of the “staying in the moment” mindset.
“I’m definitely going to be Kenny Ravizza-ese talking to them,” Maddon said.
The Cubs led the division by 4½ games on Sept. 1, and by 2½ when this seven-game homestand opened Monday.
Since then, the Brewers improved to 16-6 in their last 22 games with a three-game sweep of the Cardinals this week.
The hitting has been as sporadic — more often sputtering — in the last week or so as it has been all season. And a bullpen that was a team strength most of the season has been a late-inning crapshoot lately with its top two closing options injured (Brandon Morrow, Pedro Strop).
The Cubs are assured a postseason game after clinching no worse than the second wild-card spot with Wednesday’s victory over the Pirates.
But that became the first playoff qualifier a Cubs team has declined to celebrate on the field and in the clubhouse, a sign of their singular focus on the division title that would come with three days off and home-field advantage through the NL bracket.
“I want our guys to understand that and feel that and know that, because our objective is not just to qualify,” Maddon said. “It’s not going to be a speech. It’s not going to be rousing. I just want to go over the things that are happening right now and see if we can adjust our method of thinking and go out there and just play this game with the verve and joy that we always do, and not worry about the negative components. Let’s really anticipate the positive.”
Notes: Third baseman Kris Bryant (wrist) was out of the lineup for a second consecutive game but was available as a pinch hitter. Maddon said he expects him to start Friday.
• As expected, Addison Russell had his administrative leave extended beyond the first-week limit as Major League Baseball continues its investigation into new domestic-violence accusations by his former wife.