Ask Cubs players about missing the postseason last year, and it’s clear the experience motivated them as they prepared for 2020.
Now, after going 34-26 in a pandemic-shortened season to win the National League Central title and lock up their playoff spot, they aren’t taking anything for granted.
“It’s really cool that we’re back here again,” left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. “Every small detail matters, and you get that excitement, that butterfly feeling, just like you do every time, but I think just a little bit more just because we’re back. We missed it last year.”
Added Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ Game 1 starter Wednesday in their best-of-three wild-card series against the Marlins: “When you make it year after year, maybe you grow a little bit accustomed to it. But I think this group, we really don’t fall into that too much.”
Hendricks will face young Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.00 ERA), who went 2-1, 2.30 down the stretch. Alcantara will be followed by phenom Sixto Sanchez, who was one of the game’s most touted arms and has not disappointed at the major-league level, going 3-2, 3.46 in seven starts this season.
The Cubs aren’t overlooking the young Marlins and respect what they’ve done after a long, slow rebuild. They remind Schwarber of another young, hungry group in a similar spot a few years ago.
“It kind of brings you back to [the Cubs of] 2015, and I think they’re just going out there and they’re gonna be excited to play,” he said. “You know, this is a whole new experience for pretty much all these individuals.
“There’s some veteran guys on the team. I know [Brandon] Kintzler over there. Pretty sure Matt Joyce has been in the playoffs before. And they’re going to try to share experiences. But you know, there’s nothing like it when you’re in it.”
Cubs rookie infielder Nico Hoerner also will get his first taste of playoff baseball.
“The resounding emphasis from all the older guys has been just, ‘Don’t take this at all for granted,’ because everyone says you don’t know when your next chance to play in the playoffs will be,” Hoerner said. “So I’m just really appreciating it and being grateful for the season even happening, and taking a second to actually enjoy it.”
If anybody knows what it’s like to be prepared for the playoffs, it’s manager David Ross, with a pair of World Series rings. But in his first postseason as Cubs skipper, even he will be working through some butterflies.
“There’s nerves, for sure,” Ross said Tuesday. “I was laying in bed last night feeling like today was the day the games were starting. I remember just actually talking to David Bote about that — you know, having to kind of say over and over in your head, ‘The game is not tomorrow. It’s not tomorrow.’ You’re anxious to get started.”