The Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball.
Yes, were. In the regular season that is. The northsiders enjoyed a stellar 103-58-1 campaign, winning the NL Central Division by a whopping 17.5 games. They boasted a pitching staff that had the lowest ERA and WHIP in all of baseball, and who’s number two and number five starters were so good that not only are they both in Cy Young contention, but it forced the reigning NL Cy Young winner to be slotted down to number three for the playoffs. They were also the best defensive team in baseball, and have possibly three Gold Glove winners in the mix. Oh, the NL MVP may be in there too. In all, that’s a rather impressive body of work.
None of it means anything anymore.
Well, sort of.
The Cubs will need to count on all the above and fire on all cylinders in the NLDS against the Giants, who come into Wrigley Field for Game 1 on the strength of a stellar 3-0 win in the NL Wild Card game over the Mets in New York. The Giants rode the coattails of ace Madison Bumgarner, who, continuing his career M.O. of postseason excellence, fired a four-hit shutout to advance his squad to the DS. This sets up a really interesting, and nerve-wracking, matchup.
The pitching probables are the key here. Jon Lester gets the go for the Central Division Champs in Game 1, while the Giants counter with nastyman Johnny Cueto, who is likely to appear again in Game 5, if needed. In between, there will be a push-pull matchup in Game 2 with The Professor, Kyle Hendricks, on the bump for the Cubs, against former Cub and prodigious pushbroom-possessing Jeff Samardzija. This here will be where things get screwy. Game 3 moves to San Francisco, with Bumgarner on the hill. If the first two games are split, then this would be just what the Giants want, a chance to take the lead at home with their ace on the mound. The Cubs, fortunately, have an ace of their own to roll out in Jake Arrieta. Game 4 would see Matt Moore square off against playoff-tested veteran John Lackey, and a possible Cueto/Bumgarner combination against Lester in Game 5.
The easier-said-than-done philosophy for the Cubs will “simply” be to take care of business at home. They have the more dynamic offense, and so in all games, if the Cubs can get to the Giants’ bullpen as early as possible, then that will be an advantage. Defense is another big factor and one of the Cubs’ greatest strengths. Intangibly-speaking, and there are always tons of these in playoff baseball, is the time off. The Cubs haven’t seen any real game action in five days and in a long season where rhythm can be as important as anything, there’s always the possibility of a little disruption in flow. This would be where Cubs skipper Crazy Joe Maddon, with his regular workouts and irregular philosophies, can only help.
Baseball is weird, guys. And playoff baseball is even weirder, to the Nth degree. Unlike other playoffs in sports like basketball and football where talent often wins out, the best team in baseball doesn’t always win. There are just too many variables and the very bizarre nature of playoff baseball itself makes it completely unpredictable. The Cubs were unequivocally the best team in baseball in 2016, and anyone who’s paid the slightest attention to the game really can’t argue otherwise. But that was then. Like the saying goes, ‘two things in baseball don’t mean shit: Last year and yesterday.’
That being said, let’s just see what happens right now then, shall we?
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