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Emma: Cubs Making This A Special Season

By Chris Emma--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- These aren't your grandmother's Cubs.

In the back row of section 116 at Wrigley Field, an elderly fan was overcome with excitement and darn near emotion. Cubs shortstop Addison Russell had just delivered a highlight-reel dive and flip to second base to earn a thrilling 5-4 win over the rival Cardinals on Saturday afternoon. It was one of those moments that gets replayed over and over again.

The man fell backward into his seat with his arms hoisted toward the pure blue sky and blurted out that fitting line to no one in particular. Not your grandmother's Cubs, indeed.

"We've got a lot of talent here, a lot of young talent, and we have the opportunity to be good here for a long time," Cubs ace Jake Arrieta said before the game.

A 2015 season that marked the beginning of "The Plan" producing results has become something more. The Cubs were realistically looking to reach .500 and be in the playoff hunt. They're now 87-61 and can end Saturday night tied for the NL wild-card lead (if the Pirates fall to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers), which would bring them a step closer to hosting the one-game playoff.

Of course, nobody in the Cubs' raucous postgame celebrations -- smoke machine, disco ball and all -- cares about the wild-card standings right now.

"We don't want to settle for the wild card," Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. "We want it all."

That Cubs' talent has far exceeded expectations, with many players in their first full season of baseball. Bryant has been sensational -- Joe Maddon declared him NL Rookie of the Year on Saturday -- while fellow rookies Russell and Kyle Schwarber have been great in their first seasons, too. Anthony Rizzo has been an NL MVP candidate, the unquestioned leader of this team.

Factor in the major impacts lately from Starlin Castro and Javier Baez, a pair of young talents who have overcome struggles, and this young core is raking at the plate. Since Sept. 1, the Cubs boast a team OPS of .811, which is good for third in baseball. Their pitching has been great, too, compiling a team xFIP (expected fielding indepentant pitching) of 3.45 since the turn of the calendar, second to only the Dodgers. Arrieta and Jon Lester have formed one of baseball's best one-two pitching punches.

After taking three out of four in Pittsburgh, Chicago has won the first two games against St. Louis.

Saturday brought an electric atmosphere to Wrigley Field. When Jorge Soler belted a ball to right field for a homer, a loud roar came from the 40,994 immediately after the crack of the bat. Bryant followed moments later with a shot that nearly landed on Waveland Avenue, bringing the Friendly Confines to a frenzy.

It felt like a playoff atmosphere.

"It didn't feel like it," Maddon said. "It was one."

When the Cubs were tested in the ninth inning by the Cardinals -- still the best team in baseball by record -- the young team showed its maturity. With the tying run on base, Pedro Strop silenced St. Louis, backed by Russell's remarkable play.

Strop unleashed an exuberant fist pump, repeated, then jumped up and down. Most fans in the ballpark responded the same, too.

More than a century without a World Series seems irrelevant at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs' faithful fans are having too much fun. This season feels like it could be something special, and it's only the beginning.

"It's really gratifying that we're able to perform that way for them," Maddon said.

Not your grandmother's Cubs, indeed.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.

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