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— Cubs Baseball for Thinking Fans
Monday, October 03, 2016
Five minute non-specific opponent playoff preview
I’ll write a little more after the NL WC game on Wednesday, once we know who the Cubs are playing (quick thought - I don’t have a preference; both the Mets and Giants have obvious strengths and ways they could beat the Cubs, and also plenty of weaknesses and reasons the Cubs can beat them). In the meantime, here’s some quick thoughts about how things are looking. First though, 103 wins. Wow. I hope we can fully appreciate how great this season way, regardless of how this month turns out. This was easily the best Cubs team of my lifetime, and arguably my parents’ too.
Reasons for Optimism:
1. Pitching and defense. The Cubs had the best pitching and defense in all of baseball this season (or at least the best combination of the two that doesn’t try to assign credit solely to one over the other). The rotation was deep and strong all year, though that matters less in the playoffs. Lester and Hendricks have been as good as any other teams’ top pair, and Arrieta could still easily put together a dominant stretch (even if that looks less likely today than it did a few months ago). Lackey had another solid year and has pitched in the playoffs plenty (I don’t know how much playoff experience really matters, just ask Lackey about last postseason). Chapman at the end of the pen has also really solidified that group. The Cubs likely have the on-paper advantage regardless of opponent. Defensively, the Cubs are strong up and down the lineup, with a couple of small exceptions (below average in LF when Bryant isn’t there, Montero is not great behind the plate, and Zobrist is solid though not as rangy as Baez). Maddon can put out a defensive group to compliment the pitcher and game situation. This is a nice perk in case of low scoring games.
2. Baserunning. I think the Cubs ran into a few more outs later in the season, but overall, they have a great baserunning team. Announcers will talk about their ability to “manufacture” runs, which can be overstated, but might be important on cold nights with the wind blowing in (both games 1 and 2 in the NLDS are night games).
3. Overall offense. The Cubs had one of the best offenses overall, and a lot of that is due to their patience at the plate. They take a lot of walks, and make pitchers work hard. They have power from just about every spot in the lineup (I’m looking at you, Heyward). They still strike out, but a bit less than last year, which will matter a lot.
4. Maddon. I think this roster will really give Joe the opportunity to shine, and hopefully wring out some advantages through these serieses. He tried a lot of different things this season, the Cubs are very flexible, and I think he’s going to have an advantage in almost every possible series.
Reasons for Pessimism:
1. Bottom of the lineup. I’ve heard a couple of analysts talk about this, and it can be overstated, but if the Cubs are running out Heyward/Coghlan Montero in the 6/7/8 spots, it may make things easier on the other team. By the times the Cubs are facing the LOOGY brigades, the Cubs should have the ability to PH to get matchups they like. But I do fear what happens if guys like Bryant or Rizzo struggle at all and where the offense comes from. This is not a problem that is unique to the Cubs, and outside of Boston, every team has a weaker part that can be exploitable.
2. Middle relief. Rondon isn’t right, so that just means there’s a little less certainty when Maddon goes to the pen. There’s a lot of options down there, but every individual person has their own questions and none have been consistent reliable all season. Again, middle relief is usually the weakest part of every team, and I like the Cubs’ pen more than any other NL playoff team. So here’s just hoping Joe pushing the right buttons, but that he can go to the pen when/if the starters should be pulled.
3. Randomness of the playoffs. This is not meant to imply the Cubs “should” win, or if they lose it’s simply because the playoffs are a crapshoot. The Cubs have the best odds, and I’d rather this roster than any other, but things happen in short series. Here’s hoping luck is on their side for once.
4. Jinxes/Weight of expectations. I don’t believe in jinxes or curses, so I’m already throwing that out. I like to believe that the idea of pressure won’t be a problem; the Cubs are young, but they have guys who’ve won and who’ve played big games before. Even the young guys all got a taste of the atmosphere last season. Using some sort of intangible as a narrative crutch is appealing, but it’s really impossible to know if someone will or won’t come through in a big moment.
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