It’s a little different this fall. Last year the Cubs entered the playoffs as the unquestioned favorite, and all we required was that baseball not get in the way. We had seen too many times when the best team had been knocked out by a team simply playing better at the time. We had seen it the previous year when the Cubs themselves clocked the best team in the NL in the Cardinals in the Division Series, then got clubbed by a Mets team they were seven games better than in the regular season playing in a harder division. That’s what we’re trained to expect.
And it’s not as if baseball didn’t try to BASEBALL last October.
It would be easy to point out how many things went right for the Cubs in their 11 wins and say that it was still BASEBALL. But I feel, mostly because I’m biased, that the Cubs beat back any attempt to BASEBALL.
Down three runs in Game 4 and facing Cueto in Game 5? Nah, fuck that, the Cubs were too strong for that. Down 2-1 in the NLCS and facing two more games on the road? Nah, fuck that, the Cubs are going to score 23 runs the next three games because they’re just too good, including braining Clayton Kershaw to wrap it up.
Down 3-1 in the World Series? Cubs simply had more starting pitching. And a better lineup. Everything going wrong in Game 7 and the manager losing his eggs and mind? Yeah, the team was just too good, and outlasted everything Cleveland the baseball gods threw at them. They basically smothered BASEBALL.
Well, now the Cubs might need BASEBALL. You could make an argument that they’re the fourth best team in the National League. That’s certainly what the standings say, though they’re pretty much a toss-up with Arizona. Logically, this team really shouldn’t get out of the NL. It probably shouldn’t even get out of the Division Series. It’s two top starters are at best ouch-y and and at worst hurt. The lineup could contain four or five spots where you have no idea what you’ll get out of it from game to game. It’s emotional leader, Willson Contreras (and that’s what he’s become) hasn’t hit for power in a month. The bullpen is capable of utter dominance and utter incompetence, almost from pitch to pitch. You could see some combo of Edwards-Strop-Rondon-Montgomery-Davis or more making the last 9-12 outs of a game routine. Or you could see them walking the park and causing all of us to pass out.
So the Cubs have the potential of having everything clicking and being unstoppable again, or everything going wrong and even a Scherzer-less Nationals team should be able to pick them off. We just don’t know.
And it’s probably going to require some BASEBALL. Whatever that means. A player like Zobrist or Happ or Schwarber not just getting hot, but like a Billy-Hatcher-in-’90 and simply deciding to not make an out. Like hitting .500 for a series or something. Or a Daniel Murphy power binge, and not from Daniel Murphy. Happ or Bryant or Baez popping off for four homers in three games or something. A reliever other than Davis simply going Green Lantern and getting six outs whenever needed. Arrieta and Lester being healthy enough, or Quintana relishing his first playoff appearance. Something unforeseen probably has to happen. Which is fine, because these things happen in playoff baseball all the time.
In my mind, the Cubs tamed BASEBALL last fall. They defeated it. And hence it should now be an ally. Because for so long it wasn’t and we don’t have to rehash all the moments that illustrate that. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Let’s hope that’s the case.