CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Cubs were in the pennant race, the final six weeks of the season would be chock-full of intense games. It will be anyway -- but only for the opponent, as everyone the Cubs play has postseason aspirations, beginning Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs want to avoid a repeat of last season, in which three teams celebrated playoff berths while playing the Cubs.
"I certainly would not want to be sitting in here while someone else is celebrating on the field," manager Rick Renteria said before Tuesday's game. "But that's kind of a moot point. No one wants that."
It might be unavoidable because the Cubs have so many games against teams that want to play into October; one or more is bound to clinch against Chicago, but don't expect the opponent to believe it has an easy time against them.
"Today's baseball has so much parity," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "When you look at what's happened in both leagues. One team may get up then come back down. That's the game now. They're [the Cubs] loaded with talent here. This is a club that's only going to get better."
Even though it is the New York Mets against whom the Cubs are coming off a four-game series in which they limited New York to four or fewer hits in each contest, the Giants took notice. And, of course, Bochy is wary of the Cubs' budding lineup.
"This is a team that has some great young talent," he said. "They're going to be even better because of these young guys getting playing time. They have a good heart of the order with young kids, with [Javier] Baez, and [Chris] Coghlan has experience. It's a team that can beat anybody."
The experience against playoff contenders is what Renteria is interested in. He’s not just repeating clichés. There's meaning to be had in these seemingly meaningless games.
"It’s a test," Renteria stated. "They’re trying to go out there and prove they belong here with them. We have to minimize mistakes. We're playing contending teams. There's a reason they're in contending positions."
It'll keep the Cubs focused, as this is the time of year focus can be diverted. It's as if the schedule is partly doing the manager's job for him.
"Is this a good place for us to be in right now? Darn right," Renteria said. "We need to embrace this and show everyone we're moving forward and growing. We're hoping to come out on the winning side of it, but it’s something we can use to make ourselves better."
And, as if Bochy was listening in, he responded in kind:
"You take no one for granted."