PITTSBURGH — Joe Maddon finally has a 100-win season.
It’s difficult to find perspective on the Chicago Cubs’ reaching a win total they haven’t hit in 80 years, as there are few around who remember that season, but Maddon’s first time guiding a team to the century mark is a step in changing the perception of a franchise known more for its failures than its successes.
“Yeah, it’s a big deal,” Maddon said recently. “I’ve never had one. They’re not easy to achieve.”
Achieve it the Cubs did, and in dominating fashion days to spare in the regular season. Their march to the playoffs has been full of memorable moments. Add Monday’s 12-2 thumping of the Pittsburgh Pirates to a season-long highlight reel that has given Chicago a coveted number of victories that only 98 teams had reached before Monday.
“It’s not easy,” Maddon repeated with a smile.
The Cubs have made it look easy. Only once this season — right before the All-Star break — did their pace drop below the 100-win mark, and that was for only a few days. Since then, they’ve been as good as they were the first weeks of the season, when they got off to a 25-6 start and set the tone for the sixth 100-win season in franchise history. Of course, four of those seasons came before 1911, and none came after 1935.
“Not many teams win 100 games. It’s been a long time [for the Cubs],” Anthony Rizzo said of the feat. “It says a lot about the talent in this locker room.”
With five more wins this week, the 2016 Cubs could become the second-winningest team in franchise history, trailing only the 1906 Cubs, who won a major league-record 116 games. That team won the first of three consecutive championships, and the final World Series winner of those back-to-back-to-backs is still the most recent squad to win a championship for Chicago’s National League team.
“Ninety is special. When you start the year, you think of 90,” Maddon said. “That should get you to the dance, but when you get a chance to do 100, that is special.”
Unfortunately for the Cubs and their fans, 100 wins mean little come playoff time. Of the 15 teams that have won at least that many since 2000, only the 2009 Yankees went on to win the World Series. Can the Cubs break that trend? Does winning so easily for so long work against them in a short series? Maddon knows the pitfalls.
“Whether you win 100 games or not, it’s not going to matter when it comes down to that best out of five,” Maddon said. “It doesn’t matter. It’s about best out of one, best out of one, best out of one, etc.”
The accomplishment is a big one, no matter what happens next month. Even if many won’t remember the 100-plus wins unless they’re followed by a World Series parade, no one can take away the regular-season victories, which have included seven walk-offs among 13 games won in the last at-bat. The Cubs have come from behind in 32 games, including an eye-popping seven games after trailing entering the ninth inning, the most in the National League.
The true meaning of winning 100 or more games will be determined if the Cubs win 11 more after Sunday. Then a really good season will turn into a historic one that ends the longest championship drought in professional sports history. Only then will the regular season be celebrated, and only then can we truly appreciate everything the 2016 Cubs have accomplished.