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Just Sayin’: It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Cubs

The Cubs used to seem capable of overcoming anything, didn’t they? Three seasons later, it’s that sense of the inevitable — of the inevitably good — that they miss most of all.

Division Series - Chicago Cubs v San Francisco Giants- Game Four
The 2016 Cubs celebrate on the mound in San Francisco.
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It was late. Deadline was bearing down. The Cubs and Giants were still playing Game 4 of their 2016 division series, but everyone in the press box at then-named AT&T Park in San Francisco was already writing.

About a series the Giants were about to knot up before the teams traveled to Wrigley Field for a decisive Game 5, we reckoned.

The Cubs trailed 5-2 heading into the ninth inning. Like other writers there that night, I was a good chunk of the way through a “Cubs lose” story. Blessed with the organizational skills of a baby platypus, I somehow still have that file on my desktop. (Will I remember to finally trash it after I finish this column?)

“It’s all on Jon Lester now,” it began.

“The Giants have the Panik Attack, the Conor Gillaspie Night-Time Experience, mountains of mojo and — oh, yeah — they’ve never met an elimination game they didn’t like. After Tuesday’s 5-2 victory in Game 4 of the NLDS, they’re now 11-0 in can’t-lose situations since the start of the 2012 postseason.

“The pest the Cubs can’t kill will go for No. 12 Thursday at Wrigley Field, and who’s going to stop them?

“It’s Lester. Or bust.”

A fine waste of words because the Cubs came roaring back in the ninth, scoring four runs and yanking out the plug on the Giants’ dynasty.

The ’16 Cubs seemed capable of overcoming anything, didn’t they? Anthony Rizzo’s and Addison Russell’s playoff slumps. Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS. Of course, the 3-1 deficit they faced against the Indians in the World Series.

Three seasons later, it’s that sense of the inevitable — of the inevitably good — that the Cubs miss most of all.

As the 2019 Cubs move past the July 31 trade deadline and into August — the start of the stretch run — it would be foolish for anyone to give up on them. They’re right there with the Cardinals and Brewers in the thick of the NL Central title race. Oddsmakers still see them as the favorite to win it.

But the ’19 Cubs seem capable of being buried by any number of things, don’t they? More bullpen disasters. Bats vaporized by good pitching. An uncanny way of stinking on the road. Meanwhile, the mighty Dodgers loom as a monstrous challenge for any NL contender.

Is there a sense of the inevitable — of the inevitably bad — surrounding this team?

If the Cubs don’t get their act together in this stretch run, the Cardinals and/or Brewers will happily leave them behind. It wouldn’t take much for two teams to elbow past the Cubs in the wild-card race. It would tarnish president of baseball operations Theo Epstein’s reputation. It would be the end of Joe Maddon as manager. It would recast a core of World Series-winning players as underachievers.

Or, the Cubs could seize this opportunity to roar back. Right the ship. Change the narrative. Get hot. Win the division. Overcome each and every challenge from there. Another parade!

It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for the Cubs. Are they really any good, or aren’t they?

If not — if they wither on the vine without reaching their potential — the “Cubs lose” stories will practically write themselves.

Just sayin’

Or maybe reliever David Phelps was all the Cubs actually needed. Phelps, who has 245 big-league appearances, was acquired Tuesday from the Blue Jays for minor-league pitcher Thomas Hatch.

In other words: The Cubs traded a guy none of us has ever heard of for a guy a few of us may have heard of.

Sounds like a huge win.

• It’s morning on the South Side again. Yes, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is back in the saddle, recovered from a nasty high ankle sprain that cost him 26 games. Eloy Jimenez is back in the lineup, too. Sure, the starting pitching is still an abomination, but no team is perfect.

• I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for Eddy Pineiro to win the Bears’ kicking competition. I spelled both his first and last names correctly in nine of 10 tries yesterday.

Chris Kunitz didn’t give the Blackhawks much on the ice last season, but he’s bright, hard-working, unselfish and makes a lot of sense as the newest assistant coach on Jeremy Colliton’s staff. It’s the soft landing he earned over a long, terrific career.

• The latest news that came this week on Howard Moore, the ex-UIC coach who was badly burned in a May 25 car crash that killed his wife and daughter, was terribly disappointing. After an undisclosed medical issue at his home in Madison, Wisconsin, Moore went into cardiac arrest while riding in an ambulance to a hospital.

Now an assistant at Wisconsin, his alma mater, Moore was planning to coach during the upcoming season. Instead, the 49-year-old Chicago native and Taft alum will work on his recovery at a long-term care facility. May the skies soon brighten for Moore and son Jerell.