2017 MLB Predictions

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Well folks, here we are! The 2017 season has arrived (today is Opening Day in fact, so I realize I’m a bit late on this.) I debated all offseason on whether to do a predictions post, but in the end, and by the end I mean about 4 minutes ago, I decided why not? So, here goes it, my prognostications for this year:

AL EAST

  1. Boston Red Sox – They’re loaded. Having David Price banged up to start the year won’t help, but picking up Chris Sale will, as he historically has dominated the division.
  2. Toronto Blue Jays – Balanced and potent. They should be in the picture.
  3. Baltimore Orioles – Talented and consistent, and Buck Showalter will keep them relevant.
  4. New York Yankees – Could easily finish higher. 2-5 in this division could end up anywhere.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays – Should be competitive, but an overall lack of offense will likely keep them at a distance by September.

AL CENTRAL

  1. Cleveland Indians – Like Boston, they’re loaded and hungry. Will the 69-year World Series drought come to an end?
  2. Kansas City Royals – Injuries decimated them last year. If healthy, they should contend.
  3. Detroit Tigers – Getting older, but don’t count them out just yet.
  4. Minnesota Twins – Imploded last year but they have lots of youth and talent. If they can gel, they can finish higher.
  5. Chicago White Sox – Finally in a needed rebuilding mode and seem to be doing it right. Some feel there’s still enough there to be competitive all season, but it could be a rough year on the south side, especially if the long-rumored trade of Jose Quintana actually happens.

AL WEST

  1. Houston Astros – Good talent mix up and down and they’re ready to win. Dallas Keuchel is the key cog in their rotation. If he bounces back, it’ll be a huge plus for them.
  2. Texas Rangers – Solid, though may need to find an arm or two. Should be in the race all season.
  3. Seattle Mariners – Could be a sleeper team. Balanced lineup, little gray area on their pitching staff, but they feel ready to win this year.
  4. Los Angeles Angels – Should be better if they stay healthy but not quite ready to challenge the division.
  5. Oakland Athletics – The rebuild continues.

NL EAST

  1. Washington Nationals – Will we see the Baker Effect part II? Lots of pressure for this team to advance in the playoffs. They have the roster to do so.
  2. New York Mets – The most formidable starting rotation in the bigs, but they must stay healthy. If they do, this team could be extremely dangerous.
  3. Miami Marlins – Talent to be competitive, but depth and potential emotional hangover from the tragic death of Jose Fernandez will be factors.
  4. Philadelphia Phillies – Continuing rebuild, but trending up. Could grab a few more wins than people expect.
  5. Atlanta Braves – Lots of people seem high on this team to finish middle or upper in the division. They still are likely a year away, but like the AL East, positions 2-5 could be in any order.

NL CENTRAL

  1. Chicago Cubs – The defending World Champs are the best team in baseball, unequivocally. Sustaining that success now becomes the challenge, but this team has the depth, youth, flexibility and brains to do so.
  2. St. Louis Cardinals – Instantly better with the signing of Dexter Fowler, but losing Alex Reyes for the season was an unexpected blow. Still, there’s enough here to remain in the playoff picture.
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates – Arguably the best outfield in baseball and plenty of promise in the infield too. Will it be enough to climb back into the race?
  4. Milwaukee Brewers – Need pitching. Likely a mid-lower division finish looms.
  5. Cincinnati Reds – The full rebuild continues.

NL WEST

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers – Strong overall team and Dave Roberts proved in his first year as skipper he’s a trusted leader. If Rich Hill steps up to solidify their rotation, another division title awaits for these guys.
  2. San Francisco Giants – Picking up Mark Melancon was huge for them to bolster their bullpen, but a lack of big bats in their lineup could be a detriment. Still, a team of very good, dependable players will keep them on pace with the Dodgers all year.
  3. Colorado Rockies – Another potential sleeper team who could surprise. Pitching is always a question mark here, but there is a very potent lineup and solid defense that could enable this team to win.
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks – New managers always bring some new questions, but overall a lack of depth will be a major hurdle come the dog days of summer.
  5. San Diego – In rebuild mode.

There you go, folks. We’ll see how it shakes out as the season progresses and check in at the All-Star break to see how my semi-educated guesses are playing out. Enjoy the season!

 

Photo Credit: http://bsndenver.com/it-is-time-for-major-league-baseball-to/

A Draft Day Adventure

Lost in a world of fantasy, look what you’ve done to me.”

Yeah, that was a nod to a sizable hit song from 1982, remember? No? What about the Canadian rock band Triumph, who wrote it? Geez, what about the mega hit “Fantasy” by Aldo Nova? How about…crap, never mind. You may have known somewhere in the far recesses of your subconscious mind that these songs existed, but their details were very sketchy, at best. Basically, you don’t remember these songs any more than I remembered just how to play fantasy baseball.

You can imagine then, that I was a little concerned heading into last weekend’s draft, feeling like a mechanic from the 1970’s who started working on cars again in 2017 after a long time away. Sure, cars still have four wheels and an engine, but what makes them actually go is radically different from what he remembers.

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This 2017 season is not my first foray into the world of fantasy baseball per se, but it is my first jaunt into this modern age of the game. You see, the last time I delved into this universe, the internet didn’t quite exist and you had to mail in your draft picks and lineups. Yes, that mail. So, here we are today and after some weeks of not-too-strenuous convincing and courting by a group of friends whom I share a mutual passion not only for baseball but specifically the Cubs with, I joined their league. Mind you, this is a league that is some 16 years old, give or take a foggy year or two at it’s inception during those joyous college years. Yep, this is me: Don’t try and join a startup league with fellow noob’s (as legions of basement-dwelling World of Warcrafters might call me), or a basic online league like I participated in, sort of, once before. Nope, just join a full 12-team keeper league full of veteran, extremely smart, analytical players. It’s going to be fun they said.

I started my prep with no singular direction, and outlined a list of players at each position without too much intricate research. I honestly had neither the time, nor the die-hard inclination. As a league rookie, I first got to participate in a mini-expansion draft with a fellow new team to the league and, actually, I think I did OK here. Selecting from a short list of available players who weren’t kept from last season, I managed to snag Johnathan Lucroy, Adrian Beltre, Brandon Crawford and Javier Baez. Not a bad start.

Draft day arrived and I was filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a modicum of fear as I didn’t want to completely Lewis Skolnick myself in front of a room full of long-time players. The auction rounds came and went, and my initial goal was to try and spread the wealth a bit to get a decent number of good players. Five buys later, mission accomplished. It was then that things began to trend in a direction that was less than upward, but not entirely to the trajectory of the Titanic‘s ultimate buoyancy in the North Atlantic, either. When it was all said and done, I took a look at my roster, feeling pretty OK about my performance. While I didn’t get remotely close to every player I had targeted (who does?), I still felt I had a roster of players who could deliver consistency in multiple categories. On second look however, I noticed two overarching themes:

Youth.

Health.

I don’t have a lot of either on my roster.

I do seem to have a good amount of power with guys like Lucroy, Beltre, Mark Trumbo, Giancarlo Stanton, Wil Myers, and Mr. Do-It-All Charlie Blackmon (easily my best pick of the draft.) Then comes a bench with what ended up being multiple catchers, but whom can also DH, a semi-surprising 22nd-round pickup with Josh Bell, and Kansas City utility man Whit Merrifield, who sounds like an Alpha Beta pledge at Adams College if ever there was one.

While the position players may be adequate, the pitching staff is cause for concern. Anchored by three injury/loss-of-stuff risks with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Zack Greinke. A couple mid-level starters with James Paxton and Gio Gonzales round things out with Sam Dyson and Kyle Barraclough (whom I admittedly drafted about 12% due to his name), in the mix as well. Draft snafu #2 happened nearly too late of course, when I realized somewhere around the 19th round that I had no true closer, and all the big guns were long off my board. I had to settle, for now, on Huston Street, who promptly began suffering from some sort of ailment (again.) Not a great sign. But sort of fitting, in a way. I’m the dumbass who overlooked that spot on my roster.

What’s the point of all of this you ask?

None, really. I just wanted to write something, I haven’t written about fantasy baseball before, and figured I’d throw this yarn of shameless self-deprecation out in the universe and open the floor to mocking, laughter and sneers. Hopefully it works out and I can maintain something above the level of animal excrement for the season.

But I’ll keep an eye on that waiver wire too.

Photo Credit: https://media2.fdncms.com/chicago/imager/fantasy-hell/u/magnum/5786463/fantasybaseballflat_by_johnny_sampson_image.jpg

Examining the Potential MLB Rules Changes

To put it mildly, Major League Baseball is doing rather well right now.

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The sport has maintained a high level of popularity, and is enjoying a period of extremely strong financial stability. Moreover, the 2016 season was one of it’s finest in years. With the two teams with the longest championship droughts in baseball squaring off in the World Series, engaging in an epic battle capped off by the greatest Game Seven of all time, it was arguably the best thing that could have happened to an already stalwart state of baseball.

But hey, what’s the point of having a boat if not to rock it?

Baseball is a business after all, and like any business, you strive for health and growth. Health isn’t a problem right now for MLB as we just examined. Growth is the goal here, in the form of gaining new fans by way of increasing the pace of play. This, however, could likely come at the price of alienating as many, or more, fans than might be gained. More on that later. Back to the boat-rocking.

This budding tidal wave comes in the form of several proposed, and potentially proposed, rules changes, ranging from the possibly sensible to the ludicrously absurd. Let’s take a look at each one a little closer and how they may, or may not (or, in some cases, shouldn’t) work.

  1. Raising the strike zone. The idea here is to put more balls in play and thus create more offense. We get it, offense is sexy. Data shows that umpires have increasingly called low strikes below the knees, and by raising the zone to above the kneecap (essentially two inches from it’s current location), this likely creates favorable counts to hitters and gives them more chances for contact.
  2. Eliminating the four intentional walk pitches. This one seems to be the most likely to actually be implemented, but how much impact would it really have on pace of play? In 2016, there was only one intentional walk every 46 1/3 innings, or one every 5.2 games. That tells me the effect that eliminating the four soft lobs would have on speeding up the game would be negligible. Perhaps they could utilize it on a case-by-case basis. Say a game is already running very long and there is an IBB in the late innings. In that instance it may make sense to just forego the four tosses. But doing it every time would not only not speed the game up, it would eliminate the chance of a wild pitch, or one in the zone that the hitter could get to. Such things are rare, but entertaining when they happen.
  3. New extra-innings scenario. Dear Baseball Gods, please don’t let this one happen. Starting extra innings with a runner on second base is ridiculous. Teams should attempt to score runs the same way whether it be the first, or ninety-first inning.
  4. Shortening games to seven innings. Really? Who came up with this gem? This isn’t Little League here. I’d be shocked if this ever gets much support.
  5. Decrease the regular season schedule to 154 games. This has been talked about for years, and it may happen someday. The six-game difference would have several impacts, resulting in more days off during the season, and certain improved travel scenarios. Also, the shorter schedule would greatly decrease the likelihood that the World Series bleeds into November, where the threat of wintery weather for Midwest and east coast teams is always near. (Then again, April weather can be unfriendly too.)
  6. The Pitch Clock. This one is already present in college and Minor League Baseball with some success in shortening game times. Whether this tactic makes it to the Majors remains to be seen.
  7. Automatic Strike Zone and Base Sensors. Am I the only one who shudders at the thought of an automated system of governance for our game? Those who hate the Don Denkinger’s of the world may support these high-tech solutions, but purists will despise them. Bad calls, unfortunately, are part of the game and although ideas like this are sound, it takes certain elements of chance, one of the very founding principles of baseball, away. The human element should be kept in decision-making, and the use of high-def cameras, slow-motion and replay review should help keep umpires on the field where they belong.

While some of these potential changes to the rules are interesting, will they really help the pace of play enough to bring new fans to the game? I think this is a risk vs. reward scenario that MLB needs to look at. While gaining new fans is always rewarding, the risk of possibly alienating the long-time fans and purists is worse. These are the diehards who have no qualms about shelling out their money for tickets, apparel, books, decor, etc. To risk losing any number of that group outweighs the odds of gaining new fans because you throw a few new toys on the field, or start extra innings with a runner in scoring position like some silly off-the-cuff rule in a college drinking game.

Like most fans, I’m all about improving the game of baseball. Just as long as it remains the game of baseball.

 

Photo Credit: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj4-MzEqoTSAhVqxYMKHT7nBQsQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pinterest.com%2Fpin%2F414190496954472602%2F&psig=AFQjCNF4J9lGwUoJdtdMoE0hUJ3PBZO8dw&ust=1486774957318404

It Takes a Great Game 7 To End the Greatest Drought

Of course it just had to happen this way.

There they were, in the 5th inning of Game 7 in one of the best World Series of all time, with a fairly comfortable 5-1 lead and things were looking rather bright for the Cubs.

Then terror struck.

Beginning with Joe Maddon pulling starter Kyle Hendricks with two outs in the fifth at only 63 pitches and after Hendricks assumed cruising status, the domino effect rippled through Progressive Field in Cleveland. Almost immediately, the tides began to turn. A rare throwing error from David Ross and a wild pitch from Jon Lester plated two and we have a ballgame. Ross then lit up the scoreboard in the top of the 6th with a solo home run to make the game 6-3 and a little sigh of relief for the Cubs. Lester would settle in and toss three solid innings in relief before giving way to Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the 8th.

Then terror struck again.

Chapman, already depleted from overuse the previous two games was tasked with getting the final four outs. A single by Jose Ramirez and a double by Brandon Guyer brought the score to 6-4. The next batter, Rajai Davis, drilled a strong 2-2 fastball into the left field bleachers. Game tied at 6. Oh my. Lead gone, new ballgame, and several innings of extremely questionable moves by heretofore headstrong skipper Joe Maddon. The collective angst from Cubs fans was palpable. “Is this really happening? And now of all times?”

After both teams were blanked in the ninth, it was another “but of course!” moment, and only fitting that this game go to extra innings. Right then, it was time for perhaps a little divine intervention: A rain delay. A short one that only lasted 17 minutes, but it provided enough time for the Cubs to be ushered into a small weightroom near their clubhouse and given a rousing lecture by, of all people, Jason Heyward. For anyone questioning his worth on the team, at least for the amount he is being paid, and if his defense and baserunning weren’t enough, he justified it right then and there. It turned out to be exactly what the club needed to hear and at precisely the right moment. A leadoff single by Kyle Schwarber led to a brilliant tag up by pinch runner Albert Almora, Jr. on a deep Kris Bryant flyball, a hustle play that is up to Dave Roberts’ stolen base levels of importance. Cleveland intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo, and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist doubled home Almora Jr. to reclaim the lead. Another intentional walk to Addison Russell brought up pinch hitter hero Miguel Montero who promptly singled home Rizzo to extend the lead to 8-6. The Cubs had retaken control of the game even quicker than they’d lost it, something that fans got used to seeing all season long, leading to the team mantra, “We Never Quit.”

But you guessed it, this was far from over.

Reliever Carl Edwards, Jr got the first two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th but then walked Brandon Guyer to bring up Rajai Davis again, who singled Guyer home to cut the lead to 8-7. With two outs and a man on  first, Mike Montgomery entered the game to get the final out. He did, on a Michael Martinez chopper to Kris Bryant, who, smiling the whole time, gunned the ball to Anthony Rizzo for the final out, taking 108 years worth of championship drought with it. Thank you, boys.

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FINALLY!

The whole spectacle was just fitting in typical Cubs’ fashion, having to scare the crap out of the fans one last time before making history. But it makes sense to do it this way. With a four run lead entering the late innings, the game could’ve gone somewhat vanilla. But instead, some headscratching strategic decisions led to a dramatic game-tying homer, followed by a rain delay, extra innings, an offensive explosion, lead change, another two-out rally and then lastly the historic final out. Why not? The end result was what many are calling the greatest baseball game ever played. Again, fitting to end it this way.

This was three nights ago. The victory parade and rally was yesterday, drawing an estimated 5.5 million people to the streets of Chicago in a glorious celebration over a century in the making. For Cubs fans, it’s not only a euphoric feeling of a championship long overdue, it’s vindication. It’s more than a feelgood win. It’s an F-U win. Countless generations have had to endure the ridicule, jabs (many unfriendly), and ridiculous counterarguments from people who’s only rationale was “just because.” Or, “It’s the Cubs, you just have to hate them.” Whatever. I even had one person proclaim, with honesty, that “rooting for the Cubs to lose is part of the American pastime. It’s hilarious when they choke.” Really dude? Well you can now take the Commissioner’s Trophy and stick it up your ass. All of you. 1908 is a historical fact. So is 1945, and that’s fine. But things like the goat, the black cat, Bartman, curses, choking, “when’s the last time you guys won the Series?” which always prompted the tiresome prophecies from Cubs fans of “wait til next year,” blah, blah blah, are all things that Cubs fans will never have to hear again. The haters have gone silent.

And that silence is very pleasantly deafening.

 

 

Photo Credit: http://images.eonline.com/eol_images/Entire_Site/2016103/rs_1024x759-161103053205-1024.Chicago-Cubs-World-Series-Win-JR-110316.jpg

71 Years In the Making, a Dream Is Ready To Be Real

“…what do you become when you walk through that door in center field?”

“We sleep,” says Chick Gandil finally.

“And wait,” says Happy Felsch.

“And dream,” says Joe Jackson. “Oh, how we dream…”

And so have Cubs fans also dreamed long. For 71 years. Or actually, 108. Although the context of Jackson, Gandil and Felsch’s above remarks were fictional (from W.P. Kinsella’s amazing Shoeless Joe, from which Field of Dreams was based), their poignancy remains relevant here. For lifelong Cubs fans, we have waited. And dreamed. I cannot recall how many times as a kid, or even as recently as two days ago, I dreamed I’d one day hear the words “the Cubs have won the pennant!” from some official voice. A broadcaster, perhaps. Or a news anchor. Any voice other than the one in my own head.

And then it happened.

By virtue of Kyle Hendricks’ masterpiece and some thunderously received runs, the Cubs beat the Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the NLCS to clinch their first pennant since 1945. Rejoice, hallelujah, amen. Fans of other teams, save for possibly the Cubs’ opponent in the World Series, cannot understand what it’s been like. Nor would we really want them to. It’s been part of what makes the Cubs “our” team. But alas, one of the very reasons the Cubs have been able to do what no Cubs team could in the past 71 years is because they simply didn’t care. Well, not about the past, anyway. Sure there is ridiculous talent and unique energy on this team that has become the unequivocal best in baseball, but where past teams may have allowed pressure to mount and the “oh here we go again!” feeling to creep in if things started going south, this team did not waver in such ways. And here they are in the World Series.

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Baseball never ignores its ghosts. They’re always watching. 

Boy, baseball sure is funny. The Cubs as we all know haven’t won a World Series since 1908. The Cleveland Indians haven’t won since 1948. That’s the two longest championship droughts in baseball, a combined 176 years. While Major League Baseball may have yearned for a Cubs-Red Sox date in the World Series, featuring endless narratives about the teams Theo Epstein built pitted against one another, one long losing streak snapped with the other in-progress, the two oldest ballparks, etc. they got the next best scenario: Two classic, old-time franchises with the longest and largest World Series snakebites.

As has been the case all playoffs for the Cubs, pitching will be the focal point. But Cleveland has ridden the coattails of their stalwart arms themselves, to impressive feats along with timely hitting to arrive in this series red hot and hungry. The matchups look pretty intriguing too: NLCS Co-MVP Jon Lester takes the bump for the Cubs in Game 1 in Cleveland, going against their ace Corey Kluber, an 18-game winner this season. Jake Arrieta gets the call for Game 2, allowing Kyle Hendricks to rest fully for Game 3. Arrieta takes on Trevor Bauer, while Hendricks will face Josh Tomlin back at Wrigley Field. Rugged veteran John Lackey will go in Game 4 for the Cubs and although no starter for that game has been announced yet by Indians skipper Terry Francona, there is a good possibility that Kluber could go again on short rest as he did in the ALCS.

Offensively the Cubs really found their stride again in the final three games of the NLCS after a too-lengthy stretch (including the NLDS) of some quiet bats. By way of one little bunt from Ben Zobrist in Game 4 of the NLCS, something clicked. For just about everyone that is. This is the Cubs team I saw all summer was the collective sigh among Cubs fans. What’s more, is that it’s looking like slugger Kyle Schwarber may join the active roster in a DH role for the Series. Not only would this be a terrific morale jolt for the Cubs, it provides them with a bat that has game-changing ability, even if he hasn’t faced big league arms in over 5 months. The fact that Schwarber could be ready to go after a dreadful knee injury in April is a testament to his work ethic and, perhaps intangibly, the right piece to the puzzle at the right time. Conversely in Cleveland, their aggressive baserunning and some very timely homers charged their playoff attack. Look for them to test Lester and Arrieta in particular, with the threat to steal or take extra bases. Cubs catchers and outfielders however can counter that threat, and the stellar infield defense will need to continue. Beyond those factors, the head to head chess match between two of the best managers in the game, Crazy Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, should be enjoyable to watch.

Whatever happens, one long title slump is about to end. It should be one for the ages to see how it happens.

Photo Credit: http://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cvc-AMnXYAobdkN.jpg:medium

Source: Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella, 221.

The Weird Keeps Getting Weirder

Even the unwritten rules are made to be broken.

Take a look at the way bullpens have been used by most teams this postseason for proof of that. The various ploys have worked in some cases, most recently by the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS after a back and forth series battle with the Nationals. But extending some key personnel could have an effect on their NLCS date with the well-rested Cubs.

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The pitching matchups will again be the focal point. The Cubs repeat their DS rotation, as Jon Lester anchors the staff with a Game 1 start vs. Kenta Maeda at Wrigley Field. Game 2 is where things get extra interesting as Kyle Hendricks takes the hill for the Cubs vs. in all likelihood, the mighty Clayton Kershaw. Hendricks exited his Game 2 start against the Giants early after taking a liner off his right forearm, but he is 100% and ready to go. Kershaw recently started Game 4 against the Nationals and then appeared out of the bullpen to close Game 5, though he only threw seven pitches in the clinching victory. Kershaw could appear on short rest for Game 5 in LA, or with full rest in Game 6 back at Wrigley. The third game then, takes place at Dodger Stadium and pits Jake Arrieta against either Rich Hill or Julio Urias, with John Lackey starting Game 4 against the other of the Hill/Urias probables.

Both bullpens will of course be factors too, as we’ve seen skippers Joe Maddon and Dave Roberts both play a lot of musical chairs with their options. One notable roster move was made by Maddon, activating LHP Rob Zastryzny as an option out of the pen to play the matchup game against the Dodgers’ several left-handed bats. Like we saw in the Cubs-Giants division series, every small play counts, particularly on defense. The Cubs have the advantage there and will need to lean on that to effectively shut down the Dodger attack. Offensively, the Cubs never fully got going in the DS, at least from some of the heavy hitters you might expect, but they managed to score runs in other ways. Not the least of which was the absolutely fantastic 9th inning comeback in the clinching Game 4. Again, it comes down to never knowing what will happen. It’s worth repeating: Playoff baseball is weird. Really, really, really weird.

So there you have it and here we are. As is well-known, anything can happen in baseball and particularly when it comes to the playoffs, things are impossible to predict. (How many people banked on a Rangers-Red Sox ALCS for example?) So strap in for an exciting series. I’m already on the edge of my seat.

Oh, and this is a side note. Actually it’s a pet peeve. Or more accurately, it’s a major psychotic hatred:

I personally am extremely superstitious in general, and about baseball in particular. I adore baseball history and folklore too. But folks, please stop talking about curses. And goats. And black cats. And all the other completely BS narratives that come with the Cubs’ World Series drought. Aside from some asinine TV commentary, most of this subject matter is spewed as little piss ant pot shots from other team’s fans, or those poor saps who like to launch some schadenfreude for their own personal glee. Enough already.

Yes, it’s a historical fact that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Yes, it’s another historical fact that they haven’t appeared in the World Series since 1945. That is where the facts end. All the talk about curses, goats, et. al. are nothing more than sad, wives tale excuses about why the team has unsuccessfully endeavored to return to the Fall Classic for 71 years and they have disturbingly been woven into the fabric of baseball history. Please stop perpetuating these deplorable cop-outs. It’s bad enough that too many misinformed, disrespectful people use it as endless ammo to annoy and ridicule. It will be great when that no longer will be the case.

Peace, love and baseball.

 

Photo Credit: http://cdn20.patchcdn.com/users/38195/20161014/105215/styles/T600x450/public/article_images/cubs_dodgers_graphic-1476454405-3823.jpg

 

Playoff Baseball Is Really, Really Weird.

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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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