Playoff Reset: Giants vs. Cubs, NLDS Game 1

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The Game: San Francisco Giants @ Chicago Cubs, NLDS Game 1
The Time: 9:00 PM EDT
The Place: Wrigley Field, Chicago
The Channel: FS1
The Starters: Johnny Cueto (Giants) vs. Jon Lester (Cubs)

The Upshot:

  • The Curse of the Billy Goat vs. Even Year B.S.! Which of these entirely baseless and ridiculous bits of superstitious nonsense narratives carry the day?! Sorry if that deromanticizes things for you, but around these parts we don’t cotton much to such hooey. If the Cubs had less feckless leadership before Theo Epstein came along they probably would’ve won a pennant at some point since 1945. If Buster Posey doesn’t break his leg in 2011 there’s a chance the whole even year thing gets broken before it even takes hold. I dunno, I just get grumpy when people attribute the successes or failures of complicated systems like baseball teams in hyper-competitive and frequently random environments like baseball seasons to black magic and the universe’s alleged preference for temporal symmetry.
  • Now that I’ve taken all of the fun out of this for you, let’s talk baseball. The Cubs are, without question, the best team in the game this year. The Giants, however, actually had the best record at the All-Star break before their second half collapse. I don’t think they’re as good as they looked in early July but I likewise don’t think they’re as bad as they looked in August and September. And, for all that was written about Madison Bumgarner‘s dominance in the Wild Card game, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the Giants are a one man team. Johnny Cueto (18-5, 2.79 ERA) gets the start tonight. He finished the season strong — bouncing back nicely from a strained groin late in the season — allowed one run on five hits, struck out five and walked just one over seven innings when he faced the Cubs on September 4. This is a two-ace club.
  • Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA) goes for the Cubs. He’s a Cy Young candidate. As is teammate Kyle Hendricks, who will go in Game two. Last year’s Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta, will go in Game 3. The Cubs have at least three aces. They’re kinda not fair. And that’s before you get to their offense, which features MVP favorite Kris Bryant and a guy who will get a lot of MVP votes himself in Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs led all of the non-Coors Field teams in the NL in runs scored this year. They even topped the Rockies — and everyone else — in team OBP and once you adjust for ballparks, they had the top OPS in the league. Their pitching staff allowed the fewest runs per game in the league as well. Their 103 wins was not a fluke. Indeed, they actually underperformed their Pythagorean record by four games. The only hope you have against them, on paper anyway, is the fact that the team with the best record in baseball frequently does not win it all in the expanded playoffs era. Cold comfort when you actually gotta play these guys, but some comfort I suppose.
  • Oh, and beyond the starters and the offense, Joe Maddon has some fun toys in the bullpen in the form of Aroldis ChapmanTravis Wood and Mike Montgomery, all of whom destroy lefties (Chapman destroys everyone, of course). The Giants struggle mightily against lefthanded pitching, so that’s not good. And the Cubs’ defense was probably the best in baseball this year, depending on how you measure it.
  • Not that the Giants should just forfeit and go home. The Giants’ certainly struggled in the second half, but they had the lowest strikeout rate in the NL this year. They put the ball in play. That has been a pretty successful formula in the playoffs for the past couple of years. Just ask the Royals. Beyond that, Cueto is a stud and they will start Jeff Samardzija in Game 2. While he has been no Kyle Hendricks this year, he’s capable of a big game at any time. The Giants could steal one of these first two games and then bring back Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco for Game 3. Suddenly, the Cubs are in some trouble, what with MadBum being invincible in October and all.

But, eh, I dunno. The Cubs are stacked. Predictions are made to look foolish, but I’m not gonna start to get into the business of picking against the Cubs.

At least until Game 3. Check back with me then.