Cubs have no interest in taking years off their lives with wild-card game, set sights on bigger prize

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Perhaps some teams can feel celebratory about grabbing a wild card spot, but a day after the Cubs clinched at least that much, there wasn't any lingering smell of champagne in the clubhouse.

Instead, manager Joe Maddon spoke at length about the importance of pressing for more. Sure, as of Wednesday night the Cubs are officially in the postseason for the fourth year in a row, but that hasn't spurred any celebration, at least until the division is secured. 

They're not looking to take part in next Tuesday's wild card game. Or worse, a possible play-in on Monday to determine the division. 

"You want to avoid all that stuff at all costs. It’s the 7th game of the World Series before the playoffs ever begin," Maddon said of a possible play-in. "It’s not the route to go."

His 2013 Tampa Bay Rays team did it and survived, eventually making their way to the American League Division series after beating the Rangers in game 163 and the Indians in the wild card, but Maddon wants no part of that scenario again. 

"It really can beat people up. It can really tax a bullpen," Maddon said. "It just taxes you in general."

If the Cubs do play well enough to avoid a game 163 on Monday, there's still the possibility that they will end up in the wild card game. Currently, they lead the Brewers in the division, so that wouldn't be necessary. But with Milwaukee playing at home against the 94-loss Tigers, and the Cubs hosting the Cardinals, who are on life support for their own wild card chances, the road to win the NL Central title is a lot harder in Chicago.

In the scenario where the Cubs do have to play in next Tuesday's NL wild card game, many of the guys in the locker room have at least been there before, having won the 2015 wild card in Pittsburgh. 

But they aren't keen to repeat the experience.  

"The wild-card game can take a couple years off your life," Kyle Schwarber said. "It's an exciting game, it's a very good game for the game of baseball. But actually being in it, it's very high stress. We'd definitely rather be in the DS right away."

That game, as tough as it might have been, did yield some serious positives for the Cubs. They went all the way to the NLCS that year. And even more, Maddon believes that single game was monumental in the Cubs trajectory.

"That was the tectonic shift, right there. That changed everything," Maddon said of the 2015 wild card. "It probably put the Pirates back a little bit and jettisoned us forward in that one evening."

Even still, there's an awkwardness to playing in a one-game, do-or-die situation in the playoffs, or at any point in the season. The year is built around teams aiming to win series, and then suddenly they're thrust in a spot where they have to win the one game in front of them in order to move on.

"You want to avoid that, I mean honestly. It’s a very uncomfortable game to be involved in," Maddon said. "You’re starting almost at the end at the beginning because you’ve got to win this game. The end is in the beginning, so you’ve got to get through it somehow, you’ve got to play one of your better games."

Whatever does happen, the Cubs will have the advantage of extensive postseason experience in their clubhouse. Much of the core that has been through each of the last three postseason trips is still there, and they can guide the rest of the crew.

"There’s some grownups in the room. You need grownups. You need some guys in there that they’re able to talk to the other guys. I think the fact that we’ve been there before helps," Maddon said.

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