Remember way back on September 3rd of this year? Those were simpler times, indeed…
The Chicago Cubs were 81-56 and had a comfortable 4 game lead on those pesky Milwaukee Brewers. We had just lost 4-3 in Milwaukee on a fielders choice in the 9th inning (by some guy named Yelich?) and we were having our post-game interviews when someone asked newcomer Cole Hamels his views on “The Rivalry.”
Old Cole didn’t shy away from this one. He decided to jump right in…
“When you have majority Cubs fans in the stands, I don’t know if that’s a rivalry yet. I’ve been in rivalries. They’re not going to like me for the comment, but you can look at the ticket sales.”
Cubs fans have been invading Miller Park for some time now. In fact, we jokingly refer to the place as Wrigley North. I kind of liked Hamels’ dig at the time, but this little comment grew legs and took off running. Soon enough, it was national news. One would suspect that it became bulletin board material as well. The Brewers didn’t say much about it at the time, but the rest of their season might give a notion of their mindset: after that game, the Milwaukee Brewers went 17-6 down the stretch.
That’s a .739 winning percentage, folks. So I ask you: Is it a rivalry now?
That Brewer hot streak coincided with the Cubs pulling into the station with a 14-11 finish to the season. Not terrible, but not good enough to win the division outright. What did that leave us? A one-game tiebreaker (read as “playoff”) with the National League Central crown at stake. On October 1st, the Brewers beat the Chicago Cubs 3-1 at Wrigley Field to take the division, and the champagne flowed in the visitors’ clubhouse.
So is it a rivalry now? You’re damn right it is.
How exactly does a rivalry get born? It happens exactly the way we just witnessed. You start with two teams (division rivals preferably) that are geographically close. Then, have them compete against each other for a singular prize, in this case the NL Central Division title. For seasoning, sprinkle in some fans and sports pundits talking smack. Then stir and simmer.
We stirred, and Milwaukee simmered, and in the end the Chicago Cubs finished the 2018 campaign in second place. Worse yet, our consolation prize was yanked away from us the following night by Colorado and our long off-season officially began.
I can guarantee you that this off-season will bring changes. The Cubs team that takes the field on March 28th will mostly resemble this 2018 squad, but there will be differences. Major? Minor? No one knows. But I know this: the Cubs will come back hungrier next year than they were in either of the last two years. And do you know why?
Because they know they have a rivalry on their hands.
Featured image courtesy of WISN-TV in Milwaukee