Cubbies lead the pack heading in decisive days of September

By Dave Fultz

Labor Day brought us all a day’s rest from class and work, but it also brought something else that tends to go unnoticed by many baseball fans.

Sept. 1 is the day that rosters expand beyond 25 players, and teams call up minor league reinforcements to provide a boost for the stretch run. Not only does this give young guys a shot and revitalize the big league clubs, but it also serves to remind fans the postseason is right around the corner.

Both Chicago teams are looking to get hot at the right time and make a push for October.

The White Sox will have a tougher time of it than the Cubs in September because the Minnesota Twins haven’t faded with the summer heat and aren’t showing any signs that they will.

Meanwhile, the Cubs’ spot in the playoffs seems all but assured.

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Now, as a Cubs fan myself, I know I shouldn’t tempt fate by saying things like that, but the numbers in the Northsiders’ favor are just staggering.

Entering Tuesday, the Cubs held a 4.5 game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the division and the next best team in the National League Wild Card race – Philadelphia – was another 5.5 games behind the Brewers.

So, at this point, the Cubs have a 10 game cushion with the safety net of the Wild Card, if the Brewers do make a run at the division crown in September.

That is a cushion I’d be happy to see going into the final month if I were Lou Piniella .

The Cubs have the best record in the league, and only Tampa Bay entered play on Tuesday as the only team with a better winning percentage than the them. Piniella’s Cubs are also the best statistical team in baseball by far and have been on top of the pile in the NL since the beginning of the season.

Chicago leads the NL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, walks, total bases, runs scored, ERA, strikeouts and batting average against from the mound. They are either at the top or in the top five in every major statistical category analysts record.

Despite the team’s dominance this season, fans on the North Side aren’t about to take anything for granted. For a team that is now sitting on the cusp of the 100-year anniversary of its last October triumph, nothing is a lock.

But before this weekend’s series split with the Phillies, the Cubs ran off 10-straight series wins and solidified themselves as the odds-on favorite to be playing in October. Only the Angels enjoy as large a lead in their division as the Cubs, and the hunt for the Wild Card isn’t nearly as competitive in the NL as it is in the American League.

Certainly, the Cubs’ division lead is by no means guaranteed to remain safe over the last month.

Milwaukee has been playing very well as of late and the Brewers looked poised to make their first playoff appearance since 1982. Following CC Sabathia’s near no-hitter on Sunday, the Brewers had reeled off wins in eight of their last 10 games and had actually made up a bit of ground on the red hot Cubs in the last few weeks.

With Sabathia and fellow ace Ben Sheets likely to leave Milwaukee for greener monetary pastures during free agency this winter, Brewers manager Ned Yost can have them throw as many innings as he likes without fear of harming the future of his organization. The Brewers will likely ride the arms of their two aces into the playoffs and will go as far as they can carry them.

Regardless of whether the Cubs take the division title or settle for the Wild Card, there will almost surely be October baseball in Chicago this year.

Fans that have lived in gloom and doom for their entire lives, just waiting for a Cubs collapse, may just have to wait in vain this season.

With the numbers on their side and a team that looks the part, autumn might finally yield the ultimate prize for the Cubs after all.

Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].