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Baffoe: Deep Breath, Cubs Fans — All Is Not Lost

By Tim Baffoe--

(CBS) A snapshot from Sunday night evening:

Oh, c'mon.

Stop yourself.

Totally unnecessary.

Yeah, I lost myself in the moment Sunday night, as I am wont to do. But I'm better today, more level. And you should be, too, Cubs fan.

Maybe it's a good night's sleep that calmed my nerves. Chalk it up to the constant telling myself that the Chicago Cubs weren't supposed to be here in the first place yet and the understanding that there's a foundation of sustained success in place for years to come.

Whatever the cause of my internal ease, all isn't lost for the Cubs. True, they're down 2-0 to the New York Mets in the NLCS. The odds of Joe Maddon's team coming back to win the series aren't good, but at least they aren't zero.

Home teams that have won the first two contests in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win 78.7 percent of the time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. So even though baseball history has no bearing on the immediate, especially with this team, if you just have to invoke it, the Cubs have a better than one-in-five chance of knocking out the Mets. That all feels kind of better, right?

If we've learned anything about the 2015 Cubs, it's that there's a heaping helping of stupid from some observers that ceases believing in their ability to string wins together. They were dead after being swept and no-hit by the lowly Philadelphia Phillies in late July, remember? Yet someone forget to tell them.

When the St. Louis shut out the Cubs in the first game of the NLDS, resignation to that old Cardinals devil magic set in. Yet the Cubs are still playing baseball.

Hovering somewhere between frustration and panic is understandable right now if you're a Cubs fan. Their two best pitchers were beaten by a Mets team whose power pitchers were better and whose bats did just enough more. For the second straight postseason start, the untouchable Jake Arrieta of the second half of the regular season — they guy who's supposed to allow you to look ahead to the next game — got touched up a bit.

"I know I didn't have the life, the really good life," Arrieta told reporters after he allowed four runs in five innings in the Cubs' 4-1 loss in Game 2. "I knew it wasn't there. But physically, I feel great. There's really zero soreness at all. Just every now and again, sometimes that stuff happens. You might not have that explosiveness that you're used to featuring, but that's what pitching is about, being able to understand what's happening, how your body's responding and pitch accordingly."

But Arrieta didn't pitch poorly. He just wasn't the superhero we'd grown accustomed to. The first three hitters he faced got hits, including a groundball single through a shift and a Daniel Murphy nine iron on a low, inside curveball that was just long enough and just straight enough to get out. And then Arrieta was great again -- after the first three batters, he allowed just two walks, a puny infield single and struck out eight in the rest of his time on the mound.

"The curveball to Murphy was not that bad a pitch," Arrieta lamented. "He is just swinging the bat tremendously right now. He is just doing his damage. I just did not do a good enough job of minimizing the damage early in the ballgame."

Baseball is gonna baseball, and the Cubs weren't shellacked in either loss. A woulda here (like Chris Coghlan getting a homer robbed by Curtis Granderson), a coulda there (like the Citi Field wind not pushing hard enough on Murphy's homer) and maybe the series is 1-1. Which should show that in no way are the Mets as victors a given going forward.

Murphy's hotness stands as good a chance of cooling as the Cubs do of reheating in this series. With the warmer temperatures expected at Wrigley Field this week, perhaps the Cubs lineup that really flexed its muscle in the NLDS returns. The chilly conditions in New York no doubt augmented the Mets' mastery on the mound.

"That's tough on hitters, especially in weather like this," Mets manager Terry Collins acknowledged.

And, yes, Jacob deGrom hasn't even pitched yet. But so what? There's nothing automatic anymore here. One bad hair day or one bad inning is all that might separate 3-0 and 2-1. Or an appearance from good Kyle Hendricks, who has the right attitude.

"The start in St. Louis (in the NLDS) was a big learning experience for me," Hendricks said ahead of his Game 3 start. "Being on the road in that ballpark was a big learning experience for me. We are down two, but we are going home, where we will be a little more comfortable. I learned that you may have some nerves going into it. Once you go out to the mound, it's the same game."

Can the Cubs win four games before the Mets win two? Of course.

"We're all about one-game winning streaks," the never-shaken Maddon said after Game 2. "Our guys are fine. Our guys are fine."

I believe him. Because Maddon and Co. have never lost themselves in the moment this season, which is largely the reason they'll be playing a baseball game on Oct. 20 and Oct. 21.

Probably after that, too.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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