The Marathon is Over
The long regular season is over; 162 games per team over 182 days. Now a few days’ wait for the sprint that is the postseason run to begin– for the Cubs, this Friday, at Washington, as has been a foregone conclusion for the NL Central winner for a long time–the longest wait for games this side of the All-Star Break. The Cubs limped in to the offseason with a loss to the Reds in game 162, but the game didn’t really matter all that much–all a win would do is ensure home field advantage against the Yankees should the two end up in the World Series–a tie with the Red Sox goes to them based on the head-to-head record between them.
The game Sunday did appear to answer at least one question for the postseason, as far as the rotation goes: John Lackey appears headed to the bullpen, which will give many of us reason to be relieved. On the Nats’ side of the equation, though, it appears that Max Scherzer might not wind up being their number 1, after leaving their game Saturday with a hamstring issue–something that Dusty Baker indicated may affect his postseason rotation. If Scherzer can’t go game 1, my guess would be it would be Stephen Strasburg, which sounds better–but not that much better.
Overall, what happens to the Cubs from here? Right now, I’d say all signs point to good things–the Cubs have been playing their best baseball of the year, even with a dearth of off-days down the stretch, going 19-9 in September. Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana have been improving as the year has gone on, and Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester haven’t been bad either. There seem to be enough dependable arms in the bullpen in Carl Edwards, Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, and Wade Davis to get them through even a short (5 or so innings) performance by any of their starters. The offense, likewise, has been lively as well, though they haven’t been necessarily facing top-tier pitching in September. The team has two 30 HR players, and 5 with 20+, making instant offense a valid concern of any pitching staff opposing them. Defensively, there doesn’t seem to be anyone that can run on Willson Contreras when he’s throwing to Javy Baez, and Jason Heyward has been about as good as usual. There are going to be liabilities somewhere, though, if you want to have the likes of Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist in the lineup. There also figures to be a number of defensive switches late-game, which has become all-too-common in the Joe Maddon era. Based on the Cubs’ team alone, I’d say that the odds are better than even that they move on to the NLCS, but probably in either 4 or 5 games.
Beyond that, though, I’m not as confident; smart money is the Dodgers to win the other NLCS–despite their having the worst in-division record of the NL Division winners (41-35), and being guaranteed to face an NL West team in the NLDS. The Dodgers would be a difficult draw in the NLCS, and one I’m not certain the Cubs would win–despite knowing that they can beat their best pitching based on last year’s playoff results. It wouldn’t be as quick an exit as the 2015 NLCS against the Mets, but this is as far as I can reasonably see the Cubs going. No repeat this year.