Brace yourselves baseball fans, the Chicago Cubs are returning to the MLB playoffs.
There are a slew of salivating story lines lining this year’s field of postseason competitors and contenders, but anytime the Cubs are part of the group, they immediately become the center of attention. That’s what not winning the World Series for 107 years can do to a franchise’s appeal.
The St. Louis Cardinals are frequently viewed as the class of the National League, the Pittsburgh Pirates have now officially made October golf outings a thing of the past, the Los Angeles Dodgers are filled with star talent and the New York Mets have fans of the “other” baseball team in the empire state dreaming big. With less than a week left in the regular season, the Cubs have a good shot at finishing as the underdog, forced to play in the one-game wild card game, and on the road to boot.
With the “cards” stacked against them though, here are three reasons why the Chicago Cubs could end up winning the 2015 World Series.
1. Their pair of co-aces
Jake Arrieta has been getting a ton of love lately. Given his historic second half of nasty pitching performances, the praise is undoubtedly justified. What makes the Cubs a serious threat in the National League playoffs though is the two-headed monster leading the starting rotation — Arrieta and Jon Lester.
First, let’s assume for now that the Cubs and Pirates will be squaring off a week from Wednesday in the do-or-die wild card contest. Despite the likely home field advantage for Pittsburgh, Chicago has to feel pretty good about their chances at advancing. Manager Joe Maddon will head into next week with a tough decision that most in his position can only dream of. Do you throw the 21-game winner (and counting) Arrieta or the ultra-playoff tested Lester?
Whoever Maddon goes with for the one game, he should have confidence in that pitcher giving the club a good chance to win. If the starter falters early, they can get the early yank, and Maddon can go to the other one to keep the game close. This is the obvious advantage of having two aces at the top of a starting five. In an ideal world, Arrieta/Lester would pitch a gem against the Pirates and the offense would do the necessary work to hand a lead off to the bullpen (or the starter) to close out a win. Then, you have the other co-ace ready for game one in St. Louis and the wild-card game starter could return for game three in the division series (on short rest.) True, you’ll probably need a third solid starter throughout a good playoff run and the Cubs are hoping for that by way of Jason Hammel (9-7, 3.86 ERA), Kyle Hendricks (7-7, 4.23 ERA) or even Dan Haren (9-9, 3.83 ERA.) Some of the Cubs pitching prowess in 2015 is shown through a few statistics below.
- 3.49 team ERA (4th in MLB)
- 1.18 team WHIP (1st in MLB)
- 0.237 team BAA (1st in MLB)
By the way, with his dominating start against Pittsburgh on Sunday night, Arrieta now sports a 0.75 earned run average against the division rivals in five starts this season. Just something to consider Joe…
2. Their manager
Consider Maddon’s MLB managerial track record for a minute. The 61-year-old started off his career with two interim manager stints during his time with the California — and then Anaheim — Angels in 1996 and 1999 respectively. Then from 2006 through 2014, Maddon was at the helm for the Tampa Bay Rays (nee Devil Rays) for nine largely successful seasons.
After the 2007 campaign, the Rays fortunes changed for the better, and they really haven’t returned to their previous pitiful state since then. From 2008 to 2013, Maddon led the young, inexperienced Rays to six consecutive winning seasons, four playoff appearances and one World Series berth. His career managerial record of 871-794 does not do the Lafayette College graduate justice.
He won the AL Manager of the Year award in 2008 and 2011 and finished in the top five in 2010, 2012, and 2013. Maddon is widely regarded as one of the best managers in baseball and it’s obvious that not just any man could have brought the north siders back to October baseball for the first time since 2008. The Cubs were a popular sleeper pick coming into 2015, but few would have predicted just how immediate and drastic the success would be. Entering this year they had endured five straight losing seasons and were still a very young team.
3. Their young, but well-balanced offense
“The Cubs are too young.” “They don’t have enough experience yet.” “Maybe they’ll make a run in a few years.” The Cubs organization has likely faced these arguments against them since spring training, but guess what? They’ve answered the bell all season long and why should that stop come October?
Maybe the club does have a few too many free swingers (they rank 29th in team batting average at .244 and first in strikeouts with 1,443.) The occasional swing at a bad pitch or lack of patience hasn’t hurt the team so far though and other things about this lineup are mighty impressive. They have four lefties, three righties and one switch hitter in their regular starting eight (excluding the pitcher batting ninth.) With this balance, pitching match ups late in the game can be a nightmare for an opposing manager.
The lineup has speed with Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson and they have lots of power with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Despite their strongest players with the brightest future all being in their early-to-mid 20s, they have formed a nice blend with the veterans such as Jackson and catcher Miguel Montero, along with Lester and Haren in the rotation.
Cubs fans know of playoff failures all too well at this point, and it’d be hard to pin them as favorites going into October. With a deadly top of the starting rotation, an elite manager at the helm and a balanced, intriguing starting lineup, the north side can be optimistic for a playoff run in 2015. Maybe, just maybe, Cubs fans will no longer have to “wait ’til next year.”
Follow Victor on Twitter @vbarbosa1127.