Otto: For the Chicago Cubs, now comes the hard part

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, right, is greeted by Chris Coghlan after hitting a two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Steven Brault during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.

    Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, right, is greeted by Chris Coghlan after hitting a two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Steven Brault during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.

 
By Dave Otto
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 10/3/2016 8:11 PM

Over 162 games, numbers don't lie.

The Chicago Cubs are the best team in baseball with 103 wins. They endured some key injuries, such as Kyle Schwarber's season-ender in April, along with a stretch without their catalyst at the top of the order, Dexter Fowler.

 

The Cubs also endured some losing streaks and a difficult travel schedule at different points.

It has been a great regular season, and this Cubs team looks well-positioned to make a run at something that hasn't happened in quite some time.

The Cubs have one of the best closers in the game (Aroldis Chapman), they have a tremendous starting rotation, they play unbelievable defense, and there are few holes, if any, in their batting order. They also have the postseason experience of last year.

All good, but now comes the hard part: finding a way to win 11 pressure-packed games.

The Cubs will have had four days off when they open their playoff run Friday night. Whichever team they play -- the Mets or the Giants -- will have the momentum of winning a huge game -- the NL wild card -- just two days earlier.

If the Cubs play San Francisco, they must find a way to get past Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner, two talented pitchers they could potentially face a total of three times.

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If the Cubs face New York, they will have to get through Noah Syndergaard at least once.

Whomever the Cubs face this October will be challenging. However, another equally challenging component will be how each individual player approaches these pressure-packed games.

What each player faces is how to mentally lock in, play loose and aggressive in these larger games. I never played in a World Series game, or a playoff game, but I do know what it's like to be out there when it feels like your hair is on fire, and it's not easy to execute.

Most of the Cubs players have been in the high intensity of playoff games, and it's much easier to find that zone when you have done it.

Most relievers try to find that right amount of adrenaline, while staying calm enough to execute their pitches. Starting pitchers have a longer haul in a game, and they will fight to find that right balance.

The best hitters I've been around step up to the plate each time with a solid plan. Ahead in the count, they usually are looking for a particular pitch in a particular zone. With two strikes, they just fight like heck.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I like how Cubs hitters have approached their at-bats over these last two weeks. They haven't strayed from what got them to this point.

Joe Maddon will be in the zone as a manager and continue to make good decisions come game time. He has been through it before with the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series and had a taste of the high-wire act with the Cubs last year.

Maddon is one of the most prepared managers in baseball, and that bodes well come playoff time where moments for big decisions come fast and furious.

When Maddon was first hired by the Cubs, one of his popular quotes was floating around: "Don't ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure."

My message to the Cubs is the same: go ahead and step onto that beautiful field, play like you have for 162 games, have some fun and bring this one home.

• Dave Otto, a standout athlete at Elk Grove High School, pitched from 1987-1994 for four MLB teams, including the Cubs. A former baseball analyst for WGN Radio, FoxSportsNet and Comcast SportsNet Chicago, Otto also is a member of the University of Missouri Hall of Fame.

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