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Cubs aren't the only team hoping to end title drought.

It happened at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on July 25 on a warm, muggy night with a playoff-like crowd of more than 39,000 in attendance. The White Sox were hosting the crosstown Cubs in an interleague match.

At the time, the Cubs were boasting the best record in the majors and had just acquired flame-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman in a trade with the Yankees to help solidify their struggling bullpen.

The addition of Chapman with his controversial past was a story that had news reporters clamoring for information from the Cubs' front office--team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Joe Maddon--in the visitor's dugout.

On the other side of the field, the main topic was not the game or the struggles the White Sox were going through, but the temper tantrum by All-Star left-hander Chris Sale that caused him to draw a five-game suspension from his club the previous weekend.

But after all the interviews and repeated boring statements about events away from the field, the focus of the night shifted to the game. A contest that had all that could be expected in a Cubs-White Sox showdown--solid pitching, great defensive plays, home runs and a walk-off victory. The White Sox won the first of this four-game series, 5-4.

With the loss, echoes of Cubs fans' disappointment could be heard as they slowly exited the ballpark. Some mumbled about their club coming up short; others worried whether the team could keep a strangle-hold on the division lead. In the midst of the ramblings, a boisterous Sox fan yelled, "Nice game!" in the middle of a jersey-wearing crowd of Cubs fans, The north siders perked up when one follower responded, "Hey, we're still in first place!"

Those are the thoughts of fan, especially Cub admires, who juggle their feelings back and forth with the failure and success of their team. They are prone to worry regardless of how good their ball club is due to the franchise's long championship drought.

After that July 25 loss to the White Sox, the Cubs were in first place by seven games over the Cardinals and eight ahead of the Pirates with 64 games remaining on the 2016 schedule. Chicago was attempting to make the postseason for the second year in a row and win the club's first pennant in 71 years ... not to mention the franchise's first World Series title in 108 campaigns.

But the team's place in the standings means little until the season is in the books. As Yogi said, "It ain't over till it's over!"

In the A.L. Central, it's the Cleveland Indians who are trying to erase a streak of bad luck. The Tribe has won two pennants over the last 22 years (1995, 1997), but a world championship has eluded the Indians since 1948, when there were only 16 teams in the major leagues and the three best players in the game--Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial--were making a combined $166,000.

There are other teams in the hunt to end dreadful championship droughts in 2016.

TThe Houston Astros were an expansion team in 1962 during the Kennedy administration and have yet to win a World Series title. The same can be said for their intrastate rivals, the Texas Rangers, who entered the major-league scene in 1961 as the Washington Senators before moving to Texas in 1972. Both the Astros and Rangers have had success, but have failed to capture a World Series ring.

In Washington, the Nationals--formerly the Montreal Expos--are trying to win the organization's first pennant in its 48 years of existence.

The Orioles, a club that put together a strong first half, haven't secured a title in 32 years. The Pirates haven't won for 36 years, the Tigers for 31, the Mets for 29, the Dodgers for 27, and the Blue Jays for 22. All these teams were within distance of a division title or a wild-card invitation entering the final two months of the season.

"It's never easy," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on reaching the playoffs. "It's a long season and there are a lot of great teams... contending teams that have a legitimate shot at winning a pennant. If a team can maintain consistency and get hot at the right time, anything can happen. I'm proud of the men we have on our club; they play hard and know how to win and we'll do whatever it takes to get into the postseason."

Cleveland manager Terry Francona held the same beliefs for his club, despite having to contend with the defending World Series champion Royals and the Detroit Tigers in the same division.

"We have a solid club here," he said in mid-June, when his club was tied for first place with a 35-30 record and coming off three consecutive defeats to Kansas City. "We have a lot of good pitching and a solid young corps of players who are going to help us win and contend."

After that three-game setback to the Royals, the Indians went on a 14-game winning streak that put them in the driver's seat in the A.L. Central with a seven-and-a-half game lead. At the end of July, Cleveland was still keeping pace, five-and-a-half games ahead of the Tigers.

"I love when we win," Francona told Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "but once we put yesterday behind us (it's in the past). There is something to be learned from the game you just played. Then you process it and move on.

"If you lost five or six in a row and let it bog you down, or you won five or six in a row and you start digging yourself, that doesn't work. Just move on."

The Indians have moved on with a strong rotation of starters in Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. The five hurlers combined for a 47-26 record and 3.52 ERA through the first 108 games of the season.

Mix that quality pitching with veteran leadership in Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, along with the outstanding play of young star shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielders Jose Ramirez and Tyler Naquin, and the Tribe will be in the hunt for a pennant in October.

As for the Cubs, even when you have one of the top teams in the major leagues, drama seems to follow the franchise that hasn't won a title since before World War I--or a pennant since Harry S. Truman was president and a gallon of gas cost 15 cents.

On June 19, Chicago had a 12.5-game lead in the N.L. Central and the media and fans were thinking ahead to a historic season of 100-plus wins and redemption of last year's loss in the NLCS to the Mets in an embarrassing sweep.

But then the Cubs lost 15 of its next 20 games and fans were worrying that a collapse was in the making. Questions were being planted in their heads: Is Jake Arrieta hurt? Why can't the players hit in the clutch? When will Jason Heyward come around? Why can't the bullpen hold down a win?

"That's the way it's always been," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Baseball is a long season, man, and losing is part of the game. It's how you deal with losing streaks or 'slumps' that tell you what kind of team you have.

"And I'm not worried at all with what we have here," the skipper added. "Our guys know what they have to do. They know how to win and they work at it every day. Sometimes you don't get the results you want, but it's really how you try to achieve those results and I think we've done a great job and are in a good position to succeed ... and not just winning a division title."

Part of the game is dealing with adversity and battling through a long schedule that includes stretches of losing.

* The 1927 Yankees went 11-11 in early August before recovering to continue their 110-win season and sweep the Pirates in the World Series.

* In May 1961, the Yankees slumped early in the month when they went 4-10 during a 14-game skid. The club recovered to win 109 regular-season games and the World Series.

* Cincinnati's Big Red Machine started the 1975 season losing 10 of its first 19 games, and later in the year posted a six-game losing streak. But that didn't prevent the Reds from winning 108 games and the World Series.

* The 1906 Cubs set a big-league record with 116 wins. In the process, their longest losing streak was only three games and the club lost back-to-back games only five times during the year. But when World Series time came, the Cubs lost four straight to their crosstown rival, the White Sox.

* The 2001 Seattle Mariners equaled the Cubs' victory total with 116 and didn't lose more than two games in a row until late September, when they dropped four in succession after the club had already clinched the division. But in the post-season, the Mariners lost in the ALCS, four games to one.

The history of great teams failing to win a World Series shows baseball is unpredictable and anything can happen. Any team can win with a streak of good luck and solid play. But an invitation to postseason competition won't guarantee a world championship.

Religious philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote:

"Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed ... All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it, we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality."

This statement could also be the principle of victory. The thought process of a ballplayer can determine the margin of victory and defeat. Give me a player who can think, progress and learn on the field and he will help lead you to victory.

Joe Maddon appears to be a follower of this philosophy. He likes to empower his coaching staff, and its ability to help guide players to become thinkers and doers on the baseball diamond builds a winning atmosphere through-out the organization.

So, Cubs fans can wince with each loss, and the media can continue to spark debates about the myth of a jinx. But both parties should hold onto the fact that the Cubs are a contending team and should be for years to come, thanks to their ownership and the plan to create a winner through the front-office leadership of Epstein.

If the players can rely on their great all-around production and the leadership of veteran players, and young stars continue to believe in themselves, then the pennant drought of 70 years and the lack of a World Series title for 107 seasons should come to an end very soon.

To which Cubs fans will finally get a chance to shout, "It's Over!"

By Bob Kuenster, Editor

DID YOU KNOW. . . that when the Cubs won their last World Series in 1908, Theodore Roosevelt was president, only 46 states made up the United States, Cy Young was 41 years old, Ty Cobb was 21, and the Civil War had been over for only 43 years?

... that the last time the Indians won the Fall Classic, Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Bob Lemon and Al Rosen were stars in Cleveland, minimum wage was 40 cents an hour, and Harvard University tuition was $455?

... when the expansion Washington Senators/Texas Rangers joined the American League in 1961, there were only four players with 500 career homers, eight with 3,000 hits, 11 pitchers with 300 or more wins, and only Walter Johnson had 3,000-plus strikeouts?

... when Houston played its first big-league season in 1962, Maury Wills set the single-sea-son stolen-base record with 104, Mickey Mantle won his third A.L. MVP Award, Sandy Koufax won his first of five ERA titles, and Nolan Ryan was a freshman at Alvin High School in Texas?

,.. when the expansion Expos (now Nationals) and Padres began their first season in the N.L. in 1969, it was the first year of divisional play in the majors and Pete Rose had 1,109 career hits to his credit?

... the last time the Pirates won the World Series in 1979, Tony La Russa had 27 of his 2,728 managerial victories?
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Title Annotation:WARMUP TOSSES
Author:Kuenster, Bob
Publication:Baseball Digest
Date:Sep 1, 2016
Words:2078
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