MLB – IT’S LOOKING GOOD, CHICAGO CUBS FANS

My blog followers already know my baseball allegiance is with the New York Yankees.

Yeah, I’m one of those die-hard fans of the “Bronx Bombers” since I was a little girl.  And, I make no apologies for it.

I’ve enjoyed every Yankees World Series win that I can remember (1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009).

That’s 7, if you’re keeping track…

So, it’s hard for me to understand what Chicago Cubs fans may have felt over the last century.

Their team has zero World Series wins in 108 years (since 1908) and no NL pennants in 70 years (since 1945), both the longest droughts in MLB history.

But, there is good news for Cubs fans:  I see blue skies on the horizon.

As we are now just 2 weeks’ shy of the first postseason pitch being thrown in 2016, I took a quick look at the playoff picture.  And…

It’s looking good, Cubs fans.

Most of the other teams likely to make the playoffs have issues that can be overcome.

The Cubs Are Really Good

First, the Chi Cubs have been the best team in baseball this season (2016) overall, statistically speaking.

They were only out of first place in the NL Central one day all year (April 4) and the team has already clinched the NL Central (a week ago) with the best record in baseball (.633), while the rest of the divisions in both conferences have yet to be determined.

The Cubs are also on track to win 100 games before the season is over, a feat the team has only done 5 times in the history of the franchise (the last time was 1935).

What’s worked so well for the Cubs this season has been: well, almost everything.

To start with, the team has the best group of Starting Pitchers in the league.  Arrieta, Lester, Hendricks & Lackey combined for a 2.71 ERA average and their closer Chapman has a 1.19 ERA.  They also rank 1st in: Least Runs Allowed; Least Hits Allowed; Least ER Allowed; and best WHIP.  They also struck out the 3rd most batters and allowed the 3rd least Runs.

Also, the Cubs lineup is flexible, deep and they have 2 MVP caliber hitters in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

As for the bullpen, the Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman, former Yankees left-handed relief pitching ace, in July.  He throws 105 mph on average and will be a major piece of the puzzle the team needs going forward into the post-season.

In the field, the Cubs rank 1st in DER, or “Defensive Efficiency Rating”, which is calculated by comparing the number of hits allowed (not including HRs) to defensive opportunities.  Meaning: they’re great on defense.

The health of the team has also been in tact all season long which is very helpful.  Physicality aside, guys that have played together all year and fought the fight should have great chemistry.  Their manager, Joe Maddon, likes to keep it light and unpredictable which is also great for morale.

My only knocks on the team relate to:

  1. Base-running (on both sides). The Cubs have allowed the most number of stolen bases by a catcher (127) and there is relatively no speed from baserunners. (Javier Baez has the most SB with 12).  These areas need to improve; can be great assets.
  1. RISP – The club does have a (sporadic) tendency to leave batters in scoring position stranded. Hopefully they’ll knock this off before the post-season starts…

All Potential Opponents Have Issues

Yesterday, MLB released a hypothetical Post Season “Bracket” (if the regular season ended yesterday).  I used this as a guide to analyze possible post-season competition for the Cubs.

On the AL side, the bracket included Wild Card teams Orioles vs. Blue Jays; this WC winner would play the Rangers; and the other ALDS series would be Indians vs. Red Sox.

On the NL side, the bracket included Wild Card teams the Mets, Giants or Cardinals, of which the winner would play the Cubs; and the other NLDS would be the Dodgers vs the Nationals.

My analysis:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NY Mets – The Mets team that started this season is very different than the one that will finish it. A rash of injuries to some of their best weapons like pitching aces Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and star 3B David Wright, among others, has ruined their playoff run.  There are still bright spots in the starting rotation like Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon, but the bullpen is inexperienced and has shown to struggle in the post season. The lineup does have power potential, but too inconsistent to be considered a strength.  This team could advance to the NLDS, but it’s just not complete enough to win a full playoff series.

San Fran Giants – This team’s season has been a complete dichotomy. They started out with the best record in baseball before the All Star break (even better than the Cubs), but during the second half they have been the worst team in baseball.  In fact, their epic collapse may go down as the worst in history. What’s the major problem? Their bullpen has blown the most saves in the league and they continue to do it down the stretch.  But, they are loaded with talent and still have great pitchers who are experienced and have been truly great in the post season before (Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto). They actually still have a chance to turn things around if they can find the magic elixir, but I don’t know that they will.

St. Louis Cardinals – Hard to believe that a team 16 games out of 1st place in the division behind the Cubs and with a scant .530 winning record could actually make it to the post-season, but that’s the beauty of Wild Card games. Still, even with a lousy record (by the Cardinals’ standards who are consistently relevant in the post season) the lineup is full of power (3rd most HRs in the league).  Ultimately, though, the Cardinals have below-average pitching, poor defensive skills, rumored tension in the clubhouse & bad base running, all of which do not provide confidence that this team will go far in the playoffs.

Washington Nationals – Perhaps the most threatening NL club to the Cubs in the post season is this one. Assuming they beat the Dodgers in the NLDS, they would face the Cubs for the NLCS.  They are dangerous because their starting pitching staff behind Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark is the 2nd best in the league behind Chicago (3.44 ERA). (But Stephen Strasburg is an unknown due to the injuries.) They also have one of the best closers in the business with Mark Melancon who has been sensational since he arrived at the trade deadline from the Pirates. They also have some great hitters in the lineup including Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy who has shown to be clutch in the post-season. If the Cubs get by the Nationals, they should go on to win the WS.  But, if these 2 teams meet in the post-season, it’s going to be a knock-down drag out fight (and fun to watch).

Los Angeles Dodgers – Yet again another NL team with awesome starting pitching. This one is being led by Clayton Kershaw who had been out 2 months with a back injury and returned, but doesn’t look the same caliber he was before he went out.  Additionally, the rest of the pitching staff is banged up, so it is unknown if they can go the distance.  Most importantly, the Dodgers hitters have struggled with left-handed pitching more than any other team in the league, a big deal in the playoffs when every game is crucial.  Also, this team strikes out a lot, a weakness the Cubs can exploit.  At least 6 in the starting lineup have 100+ strike outs this year so far.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Baltimore Orioles – Tremendous hitting by this team has carried them through a lack of reinforcements for the starting pitching staff during the season. (Since the All Star Break – 4.54 ERA). Despite the fact that three batters have hit 35+ home runs, pitching woes will ultimately do them in.

Toronto Blue Jays – More sluggers and stars in this lineup. But, the offense has lost its rhythm down the stretch and are struggling.  This bullpen has been reinforced which has helped with stabilization and more saves.  But other than J.A. Happ & Aaron Sanchez, their other starting pitchers are at or .500+.

Texas Rangers – The starting pitching staff for the Rangers is probably in better shape than most with Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels leading the pack. But not one in their lineup is hitting over .300. Yes, the home run numbers are impressive, but they also lost some key pieces to injury (Shin-Soo Choo & Prince Fielder) that could have given this team a slam dunk in the fight for the AL.  However, despite this, I do like how the Rangers are surging and some players in the lineup are pounding this team to the finish line (Adrian Beltre, Roughned Odor, Ian Desmond).  Fans in Arlington should start to feel giddy.  This team could be a legit World Series contender.

Cleveland Indians – Too many devastating injuries to key players have probably killed their chances. They lost their starting catcher, #2 and #3 starting pitchers and a key veteran on offense to injuries, but have no replacements for them.

Boston Red Sox – The best hitting team in the majors, by far. Four players in the lineup have a .300+ BA and combined are ranked 1st in the majors in: BA, OBP, OPS, RBIs, Hits & Runs. The starting pitching is not great, but good enough to get the job done and get to the World Series.  They have David Price & Rick Porcello to carry the load along with Wright & Buchholz.  Together, their ERA is 3.88.  However, the bullpen has issues.  The bottom-line is that the Red Sox will likely pin their hopes on their bats to plow through some of their pitching woes.

Bottom Line

Of the possible post season teams, the NL team I see as a real threat to the Cubs is the Washington Nationals.

On the AL side, either the Boston Red Sox or Texas Rangers will likely prevail and make it to the World Series.  (Ironically, these teams played each other 6 times during the regular season and split wins/losses to go 3-3.)

But, on paper, the Chicago Cubs are still the most well-rounded club in the entire league.  They are also laden with chemistry and have a legion of fans yearning for them to finally bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy in this era.  Together, I think this a winning combination and should be enough to get the job done.

Here’s hoping the Chicago Cubs finally put their fans out of their misery…



Source : Baseball Reference. com

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