The Chicago Cubs went 73-89 last year – their fifth consecutive losing season – and finished last in the NL Central. This year, they’re in the NLCS and vying for their first World Series appearance since 1945 and their first World Series championship since 1908.
How did this turnaround happen so quickly?
“I guess it’s a combination of things,” former MLB All-Star and World Series champion Ryan Dempster said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Talent showed up probably a little bit faster than they expected it would show up, and it’s performing. You got some good veteran leadership getting out there. You look at the Jon Lester signing. You can look at what his numbers are on the field this year – wins and losses weren’t exactly what he wanted, I’m sure he would have liked maybe a little bit better ERA – but here’s a guy who took the ball every fifth day and established a presence and a demeanor that the other pitchers and staff followed.”
Adding Joe Maddon didn’t hurt, either.
“He knows how to push the right buttons,” Dempster said. “He’s done it before in Tampa with teams that weren’t expected to win and it’s a lot of fun. These guys believe in themselves. They should, they got a great team. There’s a great energy around Wrigley Field right now. I think the one thing you look at is here’s a team that has already exceeded expectations. So everything from here on out is just bonus. There’s not this feeling of something’s bad going to happen. It’s, wait a second, something great is happening right now. Let’s enjoy the ride.”
The Cubs haven’t played in the NLCS since 2003, when the most infamous fan incident in MLB history occurred. While Cubs fans have had to wait a long time to get back to this spot, Blue Jays fans have had to wait even longer. Toronto, fresh off a 6-3 series-clinching win over Texas on Wednesday, is back in the ALCS for the first time since 1993.
That’s a long time.
So yeah, if you were offended by Jose Bautista’s emphatic bat flip following the swing that proved to be the difference in the series, well, perhaps you shouldn’t be.
“Maybe if I’m in that moment and I’m the one (who just gave up the homer), I’m sure I might be a little bit upset,” Dempster said. “But at the same time, I understand the circumstances. I’ve done that in playoff games. You get adrenaline going and you get fired up. To me, the playoffs and the regular season, there’s two different unwritten rules. And a moment like that – given all those circumstances – I don’t feel like he was trying to do anything disrespectful. I think he was just engulfed in the situation and the moment that he just did what he did. It wasn’t ‘Hey, I’m showing you up,’ or ‘I’m showing the other team up.’ It was more like, ‘Look what just happened for our team. Let’s take this game and let’s win it.’”
Toronto faces Kansas City in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday, while the Cubs open the NLCS against Los Angeles or New York on Saturday.