Even Year This: Giants-Cubs NLDS Preview

they-might-be-giants-465 vs. The New Face Of Fear

GAMETIMES: Tonight 8pm, Saturday 7pm, Game 3 Monday, Game 4 Tuesday, Game 5 Thursday

TV: FS1 Tonight, MLBN Tomorrow, FS1 the rest


Pitching Matchups

Cueto v. Lester

Samardzija v. Hendricks

Bumgarner v. Arrieta

TBD v. Lackey

(note, Giants haven’t actually announced their rotation but stands to reason)


If we’re being honest with ourselves, this is what we’ve been waiting for since the Cubs took the field in Anaheim in April, There wasn’t much doubt the Cubs would be in the playoffs again when the season started. We got distracted from that by just how good and fun and dominant they were during the season, but we always had one eye on this very week, this very night. This is what matters. This is what everything will be judged on. IT’S TIME TO PLAY THE GAME (if you’ll allow me to mix wrestling metaphors).

Let’s get some concerns out of the way first. This will be the first time the Cubs start a playoff series after five days off. They haven’t played a game that contained any emotion since… what, that Cardinals series? Maybe the walk-off win against the Brewers even though they’d already clinched. But they’ve definitely been on auto-pilot since. That didn’t work out so well for the Rangers yesterday, but that’s not a hard and fast rule either. The Cubs lost Game 1 last year when they had got to play in the coin-flip. The Royals also lost Game 1 last year. The year before the coin-flip winner Royals ambushed the Angels as did the Giants over the Nationals. The year before that both coin-flip winners lost the opener. It’s really 50-50. At the very least, Lester will be on normal rest even if the lineup isn’t.

Ok, that’s out of the way. Other concerns… well, there shouldn’t really be any tangible ones. As we’ve repeatedly said since the matchup was set, there isn’t any facet of the game the Cubs don’t do better than the Giants. Yes, Cueto has had a fine season. Lester has had a better one. And he’s better in the postseason. Even if Arrieta has looked shaky, he’s kept his hand on the Giants forehead in two starts this year. Their bullpen sucks, the Cubs is breathing fire. The Giants play good defense. The Cubs play other-worldly defense. The Giants lineup is barely good. The Cubs’ is great. If you were lining up checkmarks they’d all be blue.

So what everyone is going to do is try and balance it out with this #EvenYear bullshit to create drama. Except the minute Epstein was hired, and if not then certainly when Maddon was hired, we have been trained to simply not buy into any mythical, intangible bullshit. There is no curse. There is no voodoo. There is only good baseball and bad baseball. If the Cubs play the baseball anywhere near to what they’re capable of, they’re almost certainly going to win this series. That’s all there is.

The Cubs aren’t as susceptible to the Giants high-contact ways as they might have been last season. Sure, BABIP can BABIP on ya, but no team turns balls-in-play into outs better than the Cubs, In fact, maybe no one has in history. Baez will start at least the first two games, improving it further (assuming he can keep his head which was something of an issue last fall). So while you’d prefer more strikeouts to lessen the chance of goofy shit, the Cubs are as assured as can be if that doesn’t happen.

Could Cueto and Shark throw gems the next two nights? Sure, they could (Shark absolutely won’t). But they’re going to have to. If the Giants have to throw more than one reliever in any game Bochy is going to have the Maalox or cyanide close by. Whereas if the Cubs get a wonky start, Maddon can unload Grimm, Carl’s JR. Strop, Rondon, Montgomery, Wood and Chapman and we’d feel a hell of a lot more secure than the Giants would.

Cueto had to leave his second to last start early with a groin problem but looked fine in his last start against an already out of it Rockies team. If he’s totally healthy that’s something of a worry, as he did close the season with a flourish. And the last time he made a postseason start he was twirling a complete game at the Mets. That was also after Toronto charred him but good in the ALCS and the Astros got to him as well in one start and he shut them down in the other. He was very good in his only start against the Cubs this season. The Giants also lost that one, it being the “Heyward” game. As much as he sparkled toward the end of the season, Lester was simply better for longer.

Game 2 will see Hendricks v Shark. Shark was also really good in September, but is most likely to be at 100 pitches through 5 innings. Not buying it. Yes, MadBum awaits in Game 3. But ask yourself this, if the Cubs were set to go against the winning Cy Young winner in a series, no matter what kind of year he had, how would you feel? Yeah, exactly.

The Giants have basically stopped hitting for power, which means they’re going to have to string innings together (don’t even start with Conor Gillaspie). The Cubs pitching hasn’t really allowed teams to string innings together, and what they haven’t done their defense has. Maybe they find their power again, though it’s hard to see from where with Posey’s miles catching up. It’s Crawford and Belt and that’s it, basically. Pence has been simply awful the past two weeks.

The board is set. The pieces are moving. IT’S TIME TO PLAY THE GAME.

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