Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mandate time

That W flag you keep running up the flagpole, it's not just a W flag anymore, Cubs Nation. It's now officially a commandment.

You don't sell a piece of the future to the buy the present if that's not the goal, and Cubs GM Theo Epstein acknowledged as much after the team traded a fistful of prospects for Aroldis Chapman and his 100-mph fastball. The future is now for the Cubs -- "If not now, when?" Epstein asked -- and so they overpaid for Chapman, who will give them the ace closer they didn't have and brings up to code their bullpen, the only perceived weakness in their arsenal.

Which means, unmistakably, that it's World Series or bust now.

And, yes, that is a huge tempting of the fates, and every Cubs fan who remembers the collapse of 1969 and the collapse of 1984 and the collapse of 2003 knows it. This thing has been on their racquet before -- not often in 108 years, but enough -- and then vanished. And so even if the addition of Chapman makes them look like your basic odds-on favorite, there will no doubt be trepidation in the ranks of Cubdom that this is all going entirely too well. 

Waiting for the other shoe to drop is an unavoidable learned behavior when you haven't won a World Series since 1908, and haven't even played in one since two months after V-J Day. Something bad is always out there, no matter how much good is around.  And so the Cubs fans I know, while mightily pleased that Chapman's on board, remain wary. Stuff could still happen.

But every sign is pointed in their direction right now. They not only have the best starting rotation in the game, they might now have the deepest 'pen. And it's pitching that wins in the playoffs. It's pitching that beat them a year ago, when the Mets crisped them with all those flamethrowers.

Who are still around, by the way. And who swept them in a three-game set in New York to open July, then beat them 2-1 in Chicago as Noah Syndegaard outdueled Jake Arrieta in a battle of aces whose outcome was eerily reminiscent of the NLCS last fall.


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