MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

High hopes come justified for streaking Cubs

High hopes come justified for streaking Cubs

The Chicago Cubs have the largest lead of any first-place team, 13 games over the second-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.

The Cubs have baseball's best record at 72-41. And the Cubs, with their 4-3, 11-inning victory over the Cardinals on Thursday night, have won 10 in a row. All aspects considered, the Cubs can fairly be categorized as soaring.

So it is only for the purposes of historical perspective that we note that on Aug. 12, 1969, 47 years ago, the Cubs had a nine-game lead over both the Cards and the New York Mets.

"If you use those numbers," a Cubs fan friend of mine helpfully suggested, "it will not be objective reporting. It will be sadism."

I plead not guilty by reason of wariness. We all know what happened in the last seven weeks of the 1969 season. The Cubs went 19-27. The Mets went 38-12. The Mets finished eight games ahead of the Cubs, completing a remarkable 17-game swing and crushing the fondest hopes of Cubs fans.

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This is part of the heavy historical baggage that the Cubs have been carrying around since their last World Series championship in 1908. But we have all seen how things are considerably different now.

This is not about comparing the Cubs position by position. The 1969 team had four future Hall of Famers -- Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ron Santo. In fact, the Cubs' manager, Leo Durocher, also became a Hall of Famer.

But the argument could easily be made that the Cubs currently have a deeper roster than their 1969 counterparts. And they may very well have a better manager as well in Joe Maddon.

Durocher played his regulars to the point of exhaustion in 1969. Maddon doesn't have to make that mistake, so he won't. Maddon has made success probable as opposed to semi-impossible by changing the Cubs' culture. This is a club that no longer appears to be haunted by the ghosts of failures past.

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That 1969 season marked the emergence of the Amazin' Mets, with some genuinely astounding young pitching. The current competition for the Cubs doesn't appear to offer that kind of threat. The Cardinals had great pitching last year when they won 100 games, but they're not at that level this season. The Pirates had the second-best record in the Majors last year, but they're not performing at that level this season, either.

For Cubs fans of a certain age, 1969 is burned into the memory bank, evidence that even a summer of repeated success can turn to deepest disappointment. Perhaps, at this point, at last, finally, just once at least, that failure can be merely a memory, not a constant, current, nagging reality.

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Consider the situation on Aug. 12, 1908. The Cubs were merely in third place in the NL, at 58-42, trailing the Pirates (who were 61-39) and the New York Giants (who were 59-40). After that, the Pirates went 37-17. The Giants were even better than that at 39-16. But the Cubs tore it up, going 41-13 to win the pennant. Five games later, Detroit was defeated and Chicago was the World Series champion.

It can happen. It has happened, just not recently. But the current Cubs are probably better off ignoring the past and just playing baseball to the best of their considerable abilities.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.