SAN FRANCISCO — As the calendar turned to June and more than a quarter of the season passed, the Cubs’ situation has gotten a lot more interesting. Not only have they found themselves in first place in the National League Central, the Cubs have flipped the script on what many believed would be a season of finality for the team’s collection of stars.
After several weeks of chasing the target of topping the NL Central, the Cubs now have a target on their backs as they try to continue their strong run of good baseball into what is shaping up to be a crucial stretch against some of baseball’s best.
As they start their stretch of games against several teams currently in the chase for a postseason spot, the Cubs must ensure that their hot month of May isn’t followed by a letdown in June.
“I think there’s a lot of that talk in the media and outside about teams that are having success this year and the West Coast teams that have been really good,” center fielder Ian Happ told the Sun-Times. “Everybody knows the standings and the teams that have played good baseball.
“But at the same time, baseball’s an amazing game because any team can be anybody at any time.”
The Cubs began their West Coast swing on Thursday against the NL West-leading Giants. Despite the 7-2 loss to the Giants in the series opener, the team’s confidence is high after sweeping the Padres last weekend, and on Sunday, manager David Ross said he thought his club was “pretty damn good.”
Entering Friday, the Cubs are 14-10 against teams over .500. They’re also 11-1 against the Padres, Cardinals, Mets and Dodgers, and the Cubs will play each of them again later this month.
But the Cubs have made a point not to let results of the past give them a false sense of accomplishment, especially with more than 60% of the season remaining. Ross, like most managers, takes the “one game at a time” approach, regardless of which teams are on the upcoming schedule.
“I think our goal is to play our best baseball night in and night out and continue to get better,” Ross said. “The more we do that ... I think we’ll have some success with the talent level that we have.
“I’ve been on some really good teams that have been beaten by some of the worst teams in the game, and I’ve been on some bad teams that swept a team that may be the hottest team. ... When you just roll out and think you’re going to beat somebody because you have names on the back of the jerseys and hardware and all that, it doesn’t work like that in this game.”
The Cubs came into the season with very few expectations, but now that they’re one of the best teams in baseball, those expectations seem to increase by the week.
And if the team’s winning ways against the NL’s best continue as the month rolls along, those expectations should continue to grow.
“I think it’s that holistic mindset,” Happ said. “It doesn’t really matter who you’re lined up against. I don’t think that our team puts any more stock in wins against the Padres than wins against the Pirates. We’re just focused on going out and playing baseball every day.”