The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. The Giants have won three of the last five. Who’s going to take this opening series?
The Cubs versus the Giants pits baseball’s best regular season team against a perennial postseason powerhouse.
San Francisco struggled immensely during the second half of the season — they went 30-42 after the All Star break — but finished the year on a four-game win-streak, clinching a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season. And as they always do in even-numbered years, the Giants took advantage of this opportunity.
Madison Bumgarner stepped onto the mound at Citi Field Wednesday night and did what Madison Bumgarner does on the road in the postseason. He tossed a four-hit, complete game shutout during which the Mets never really threatened. Noah Syndergaard did his best to match Bumgarner with seven shutout innings, but Bumgarner was too much to handle and afterthought Conor Gillaspie delivered the game-winning home run in the top of the ninth.
All the while Chicago has been waiting for its opponent to reveal itself so it can get to work Friday night at Wrigley Field. I’m currently visiting Chicago for the first time, and I can promise you that the fans are ready to fly the W. The excitement in the city is palpable, and the fans are ready for their Cubbies to finally bring home a championship.
Chicago versus San Francisco. Something has to give here. Either the best team in baseball is sent home early and the longest championship drought in sports continues, or the Giants streak of even-year’d championships comes to a close. Who has the edge in this best-of-five series?
Ryan Neu-The SportsQuotient
Game 1: Jon Lester vs. Johnny Cueto
Game 2: Kyle Hendricks vs. Jeff Samardzija
Game 3: Jake Arrieta vs. Madison Bumgarner
Game 4*: John Lackey vs. TBD
Game 5*: Jon Lester vs. TBD
Both of these teams boast some of the best starting pitching in the league. For the Cubs, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have been National League Cy Young contenders and Jake Arrieta — although not quite up to his 2015 standards — is still a top-10 pitcher in the National League.
For San Francisco, Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are also in Cy Young contention and have been two of the best pitchers in baseball. Jeff Samardzija has been useful as a more than solid number-three starter as well.
Both the Giants’ and Cubs’ staffs rank inside the top five in the National League in ERA, FIP, K/9, BABIP, HR/9, WHIP, and SIERA. They are both dominant pitching staffs and two of the best in baseball. However, there are some very slight differences.
Whether you consider Arrieta or Hendricks the Cubs’ number-three starter, both are better than Samardzija. Arrieta posted a 3.10 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 2.50 K/BB, and 1.08 WHIP and Hendricks posted a 2.15 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.93 K/BB, and 0.98 WHIP, whereas Samradzija posted a 3.81 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.09 K/BB, and 1.20 WHIP.
In the Division Series round of the playoffs, starters one through three mean the most, and Chicago is slightly better in this respect. Both Arrieta and Hendricks are better than Samardzija, and although the Giants can throw Bumgarner and Cueto at you, in this series Cueto is the only one who could easily throw a second time (I won’t say Bumgarner can’t turn around from Game 3 and then pitch Game 5 because he is inhuman, but it would be an incredible thing to ask of him). That means in a hypothetical Game 5, the Giants would probably have to turn to Samardzija for a second time, and that gives the Cubs an advantage.
Additionally, San Francisco has not had a consistent fourth or fifth starter all season. The fifth starter is irrelevant in the postseason, but a competent fourth starter can play a pivotal role. Chicago will be able to throw John Lackey if the series reaches Game 4, and Lackey had a great year, finishing with a 3.35 ERA, 3.81 FIP, and 3.40 K/BB. San Francisco has had nothing like that at any point this season.
Matt Moore, whom the Giants traded for at the deadline, would be the most likely candidate to start Game 4 if they don’t choose to turn around Cueto. But the latter’s 4.08 ERA, 2.16 K/BB, and 1.33 WHIP in 12 starts with the Giants aren’t compelling. That, combined with Chicago’s depth at the front-end of the rotation, gives the Cubs a very, very slight edge in this series.
I’m sure the entire Cubs organization is thrilled that Bumgarner had to pitch in the wild-card game, so that they won’t have to see him until Game 3.
Edge: Cubs, ever so slightly
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
|CF Dexter Fowler||CF Denard Span|
|3B Kris Bryant||1B Brandon Belt|
|1B Anthony Rizzo||C Buster Posey|
|2B Ben Zobrist||RF Hunter Pence|
|SS Addison Russell||SS Brandon Crawford|
|RF Jason Heyward||LF Angel Pagan|
|LF Jorge Soler||2B Joe Panik|
|C Willson Contreras||3B Conor Gillaspie|
As one of the premier offenses in baseball, the Cubs have the clear edge here.
As a team, Chicago ranked first in the National League in team wRC+, first in OPS+, second in runs scored, second in wOBA, fifth in home runs, and sixth in batting average.
Individually, eventual MVP Kris Bryant has been dominating all season long. Bryant is batting .292 with 39 home runs, 102 RBIs, a 149 OPS+, a 149 wRC+, and a .396 wOBA. Anthony Rizzo will also receive some MVP votes thanks to his tremendous season. Rizzo’s numbers aren’t as stellar as Bryant’s but his 145 wRC+, 32 home runs, 109 RBIs, and 146 OPS+ are still near the top of the league.
Dexter Fowler has been tremendous in the leadoff spot while Ben Zobrist has been more capable as the cleanup man, and Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, and the combination of Willson Contreras and David Ross have rounded out the lineup well. The Cubs even have depth off the bench in the form of Javier Baez, Matt Szczur, and Miguel Montero.
There are no real flaws anywhere in this lineup except for Jason Heyward, but what he lacks on offense he makes up for with his glove and arm in the outfield.
The Cubs are one of the most balanced and productive lineups in the entire league and although the Giants have a good lineup, it’s not quite the same as the Cubs’.
San Francisco ranks tied for fourth in team wRC+, ninth in runs scored, tied for seventh in wOBA, 13th in home runs, and fourth in batting average. In terms of wRC+ and batting average, the Giants haven’t been too bad. But they have struggled to push runs across, and lack consistent power.
Chicago wins the offensive battle in this matchup hands down.
Closers and Set-Up Men
Cubs: Aroldis Chapman and Hector Rondon/Pedro Strop
Giants: Sergio Romo and Derek Law
Another clear win for the Cubs here, simply because of the existence of Aroldis Chapman.
Earlier in the season, the bullpen was the only perceived flaw for this Chicago team. Hector Rondon was all right in the closer role, but outside of Rondon, the Chicago bullpen consistently struggled to put hitters away, and continually allowed opposing teams back into games.
But Epstein and the rest of the front office did their best to address these issues through trades. And it’s worked. The biggest addition by far was acquiring Chapman.
Since joining the Cubs, Chapman has recorded 16 saves, a 1.01 ERA, a 0.82 FIP, a 15.53 K/9, and 0.83 WHIP. He has allowed just three runs as a Cub and has allowed none since August 31. He has yet to allow a home run since heading to Chicago and has only twice entered a game and not struck out an opposing batter. In summary, the dude’s been good.
The Giants on the other hand lack a consistent, shut-down closer.
Santiago Casilla served as the closer for much of the season and ended up recording 31 saves. But during the latter half of the year, Casilla struggled tremendously. In the second half, Casilla’s ERA was a dismal 4.63. He subsequently lost the job, and San Francisco employed a closer by committee system until finally settling on Sergio Romo. He has been just fine since assuming the role, but he’s not near the pitcher that Chapman is.
Outside of the closers, the Cubs are still a slight step above the Giants. Chicago’s bullpen ERA is a bit better than that of San Francisco’s and they strike out batters at a much greater rate, which is always useful from relief pitchers.
Now, if the Giants’ starters can keep throwing complete games, none of this will matter. But that won’t happen. Eventually each of these teams will have to use its bullpen, and the Cubs have the definite advantage here.
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Cubs: Joe Maddon
Giants: Bruce Bochy
Joe Maddon is considered by everyone a fantastic manager and to many, the best in all of baseball. It would be easy to simply say the Cubs have the edge here because of that.
But standing in the opposite dugout from Maddon is a man who has led the Giants to three World Series championships and has been to the postseason two more times in his career as a manager than Maddon.
Maddon may be the better manager overall — he has a .535 win percentage in his career, which is better than Bochy’s .505, and he is considered one of the better tacticians in the league — but Bochy boasts a .714 postseason win percentage with the Giants and three World Series titles.
This is as even a matchup as one could hope for managerially.
The Giants have the postseason experience. They have Madison Bumgarner. They’ve won every World Series in an even-numbered year since 2010. But the Cubs are simply the better team.
San Francisco will certainly keep the games close, and it will make this series one of the most compelling of all the Division Series. But at the end of the day, Chicago has essentially as loaded a pitching staff, definitely a deeper pitching staff, a much better lineup, and a shut-down closer.
This is the year of the Cubbies.
Predicted Winner: Cubs in four
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