Quantifying Hope: One Magic Number 0, Two More Still Go To 11

I suppose it’s fitting that an achievement long viewed as a foregone conclusion was realized with little to no fanfare on the cusp of Friday morning. The Cubs had been holding their collective breath in hopes of blowing out the final candle on their magic number cake, only to have those pesky Giants sneak in like a bratty little brother and steal their thunder.

Backing into a clinch isn’t nearly as awkward as Hunter Pence, but it still feels a little weird just the same.

“To some it might be anti-climactic,” Joe Maddon admitted during his postgame presser. “But 93 wins, that’s not a bad season. However we get this accomplished, I’ll take it.”

I suppose if Tom Crean was at the Cubs’ helm, they’d have come back out onto the field to pop champagne and cut down the protective netting at midnight. And maybe it would have been a little different had this team not been anointed back in November.

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As it is, Joe Maddon and his charges would prefer to celebrate on their own terms. Even had they won, Thursday night was really more about the fans than anything. Having embraced the target long ago, the Cubs themselves seemed more than a little chill about the situation.

“I’m going home,” Miguel Montero said of his postgame plans. “I’m going to watch a TV show or something like that, because I don’t really watch baseball that much. The reality is that I don’t care what happens (in the Cardinals/Giants game). I want to come back tomorrow and win a game and celebrate on our own. It tastes a little different.”

Indeed it does, Miggy. Jake Arrieta displayed a similar big-picture focus as he downplayed the potential celebration.

“I don’t know how crazy we’ll get,” the Number 3 starter explained. “We’ll enjoy it, for sure. But the next one – as they continue to come – will get bigger.”

And that’s the thing: one magic number went to zero, but the two that really matter both stand at 11. The first, and certainly the lesser, of the two marks the countdown to home-field advantage in the NL playoffs. The Cubs boast a six-game lead on the Nationals with 16 to play and would like to host four games should they reach the NLCS. Okay, they’d really rather host only two and dispatch their opponents quickly.

Come to think of it, I’m not even sure how big an advantage it’d be given the 2-3-2 format of the championship series. Getting to open and close at home is a nice feature, but those three games in the middle are kinda big. Oh well, c’est la vie. Either way, the Cubs won’t be able to start to work on the real magic number until October 7.

It takes 11 wins to hoist the trophy and stop all the awful takes about why Cubs fans should be terrified in October. Hey, did you know that the team with the best record doesn’t always win in October? Gasp! And did you also know that wining 100+ games does not guarantee World Series glory? I know you can’t see me, but I’m wearing my Shocked Face right now. My mouth’s agape and I’m drooling all over the keyboard.

I guess when you finally get tired of writing about curses, it’s time to find an equally hackneyed storyline to push. Hooray for the tsunami of lazy sportswriting that will soon inundate us!

The Cubs don’t care about the past at this point, though, and they aren’t even fretting home-field advantage or 100 wins or any of the various and sundry landmarks the rest of have circled on the map. Sure, they’ll probably offer a cursory nod or a polite wave as they pass, just that smaller accomplishments are not the focus. Instead, they’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for those 11 playoff wins, each of which stands as a metaphysical mile marker on a road too long untraveled.

Whether you count it up or down, there’s really only one number that matters now.

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