Cubs’ Maddon on pressure: ‘Run toward it — it’s a good thing’

OK, Cubs fans: It’s time to panic.

Wait, that came out all wrong.

But the NLCS is here, and it has only meant calamity and devastation in the past. Will this be the end of the road like it was in 1984, 1989, 2003 and 2015? If so, won’t it be the most painful Cubs defeat of them all?

The collapses of ’84 and ’03 were agonizing. The butt-kickings in ’89 and ’15 were demoralizing. This time, though? We all know it’s different. These Cubs have belonged in the World Series since April.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon refers playoff pressure as "fuel, man. Why would you not want that?" (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Losing this NLCS to the Dodgers would be the mother of all Chicago sports sob stories.

Oh, the humanity.

Good lord, the pressure.

Maybe the Cubs don’t have to win their first World Series since 1908, but approximately the entire free world expects them to at least get there for the first time since 1945.

A whole lot of history is riding on this thing, as you may have gathered by now.

“We don’t care about the last time the Cubs won,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “We just want to get it done. Hopefully, we’ll get it done and have some fun. We want to make new history.”

Say this for the 2016 Cubs: If they have a panic button, no one seems to know where it is. How else can you explain their crazy comeback to close out the Giants in San Francisco? It was clutch. It was courageous. It was off-the-charts impressive.

More than one player has said last year’s team wouldn’t have been able to pull it off. So there has been growth to go with all that talent and all the good-time vibes, and what it adds up to should inspire confidence in anyone who is hoping to see the Cubs knock off a good — but not great — opponent in the Dodgers.

Cubs fans are confident. Many of them, having learned to expect the worst, are scared to death anyway.

Fortunately, that’s just not how manager Joe Maddon and his team roll.

“Listen, if you hear the word ‘pressure,’ you’ve got to run toward it,” Maddon said. “That’s a good thing. That means we’re good and something good is attached to it.”

Maddon has been laying that rap on players since his earliest coaching days. “Embrace the target” may have been a slogan for 2016, but conceptually it has been rattling around in Maddon’s brain for 30 years or longer.

He asked his ballyhooed team at the start of spring training: Why would you ever want to be in a situation where there’s no pressure and expectations? Going into a season without those things means you’re going to finish in fourth or fifth place.

Eight months later, here the Cubs are — having been a cut above the rest of baseball for nearly an entire season.

They can’t lose this series, can thay? They’d better not.

“It’s fuel, man. Why would you not want that?” Maddon said. “That’s baseball fossil fuel right there — expectations and pressure.”

The Dodgers probably feel like bit players in this drama, and that’s because they kind of are. The Cubs are the darlings of baseball and have been since they shot out of the gate with a 17-5 April. There probably are a good number of players around the league who’d like to see an opponent — any opponent — take the Cubs down a peg.

For the Cubs, it only adds to the weight of the moment. Not that they have any problem with that.

“We’re ready to go,” catcher Willson Contreras said.

“Don’t count us out,” Russell said.

No need to panic yet.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.