What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Don’t look now, but the Chicago Cubs are not the usual “doesn’t matter in September” club history has taught us to expect For the first time in a while, the Chicago Cubs mattered on Labor Day. If you remember the movie “Back to the Future,” it was 2015 when the Cubs finally won a World Series. That fact alone has some people all a-twitter, even some legitimate Cubs fans like JFI.
Let’s not screw around here. JFI is one of those people who think the Cubs can win it all this year. He’s a Cubs fan. Look at his avatar, for Christ’s sake. To give JFI some credit, for once he is being realistic about it. But to be honest, J-Dub can’t help but rain on his parade.
Here’s the facts. As of this writing 2015, the North Siders are 85-61, which already surpasses last year’s win total. They seem to have a lock on at least one of National League’s Wild Card spot., which is important because it’s unlikely they can make up the gap on the St. Louis Cardinals they would need to capture the N.L. Central. Again, as of this writing, the Cubs find themselves 2 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first Wild Card spot, which is the classic “distinction without a difference.” Moving from Wild Card 2 to Wild Card 1 still means being in that 1-game play-off.
Having said all that, the Cubs are most likely players in the post-season tournament. The question then becomes is this year the Cubs finally…finally break the “curse” we’ve all been hearing about since 1908. JFI has five points why he believes the Cubs can win, and J-Dub takes the counter.
JFI Point #1) Young talent. The Cubs are loaded with it.
They have a pair of Rookie of the Year Candidates in Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. They have a blooming All-Star in shortstop Addison Russell, They have a potential MVP candidate in Anthony Rizzo, who is the grizzled vet of the group at only 26. Once he made the move from second base to his natural position at shortstop, Russell has responded with increased plate production. Bryant and Schwarber just hit. The fact that these guys are all under 27 hopefully means they won’t be worn out by the rigor of a 162-game season and still have plenty of gas left in the tank come October.
J-Dub Counter-Point #1) Young talent = No play-off experience.
Take a look at the Cubs’ 25-man roster and tell me how many guys have been a part of October baseball? The correct answer is “not enough.” Like it or not, experience matters in play-off baseball, which is why I am glad I drew “Counter-point” this year. This year, the Cubs are like a 14-year girl at summer camp who has an 18-year old body, if you know what I mean. She’s got the drive, and she sure as shit has the equipment, but what she lacks is the experience. We all know those first summer camps fucks were terrible, but you didn’t know that at the time because you had no frame of reference. You were just happy to be there.
That’s what the Cubs are going to be like this year. Guys like Jon Lester and Dan Haren (if he makes the post-season roster) get to play to the role of “Camp Counselor” to the “Meatballs” like Rizzo, Schwarber, Bryant, and Russell, who are going to blow their loads into their jockstraps the minute they get the proverbial 15-year-old girls “play-off” panties off.
JFI Point #2) Versatility.
Not only are these guys all young, but they seem to play anywhere they’re needed. I already mentioned Russell moving back to short. Bryant has played mostly third base, but has some time logged in the outfield as well. Schwarber is a catcher by trade, but the Cubs already have solid backstops in Miguel Montero and David Ross. But the Cubs need to keep Schwarber’s bat in the lineup, so he has seen a lot of time in left field. He’ll never win a Gold Glove in front of the ivy, but keeping a great bat in the order is worth that sacrifice.
J-Dub Counter-Point #2) Versatility is over-rated in the play-offs.
Granted, being able to move guys around wherever you need them helps in the marathon that is the regular season. But come October where the game is all about winning three series (plus a one-game play-off in the case of the Cubs), a team is going to put is best options on the field no matter how they need to do it. The Cubs have already been doing that; they aren’t going to be able to run out a turbo-charged version of that come the play-offs.
Not to mention, should the Cubbies make it to the “Fall Classic,” they will get to use the designated hitter in the American League ballpark, which means regardless how versatile they are, they get to put their next best bat in the lineup no matter what.
JFI Point #3) Joe Maddon.
Maddon is the quintessential “out-of-the-box” thinker. He’s guided the Rays through the playoffs multiple times, including a World Series appearance. If he doesn’t win Manager of the Year, he’s certainly in the conversation. I’ve heard all year long from Chicago media how different the atmosphere in the Cubs clubhouse has been. He’s a creative, positive person and he’s seems to do his best work with young players. In other words, he’s the anti-Dusty Baker. He’s also been featured in our Sports Doppelgangers series.
J-Dub Counter-Point #3) Joe Maddon.
It pains me to say this, since I’m on record as saying I firmly believe it’s no coincidence between Maddon’s departure from the Angels and the fact they haven’t won anything since. However, there’s difference between being a bench coach and the manager. That’s why I have no choice but to bring up the fact Joe Maddon isn’t a terribly gifted post-season manager. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disagreeing with anything JFI said, but I also can’t forget watching Maddon get stone-cold out-managed by “Cholly” Manuel in the World Series. Maddon has never been in the post-season as a National League manager, and those decisions get magnified in a play0ff series, especially with a bullpen shakier than Michael J. Fox off his meds. More on that Cubs bullpen later.
JFI Point #4) The Cubs are better than you think.
You may look at the Cubs and think they are only in the second Wild-Card spot, which is the last team to get into in the play-offs. But consider this. With their record as of this writing, the Cubs would have a two-game lead the National League East, and would be ahead of the Dodgers in the West by half a game. The Giants are 8 games behind Chicago for that Wild-Card spot, so barring a 1969-like collapse, the Cubs should have enough cushion to be able to rest players who may need it, and, more importantly, align their pitching rotation for that one-game Wild Card game, which is a luxury which many teams haven’t had in the past.
J-Dub Counter-Point #4) The Cubs are pretty damn good, but there’s still too many teams better than they are.
I’ll start in their own division. There’s no denying the Pirates took a blow with the loss of Jung Ho Kang. But that team still has plenty of offense, a starting rotation with a legitimate ace in Gerrit Cole and a certified Cub killer in Francisco Liriano, and a pretty damn good bullpen. The Cardinals lack an ace, but they have a rotation with four #2 guys and a solid bullpen. Not to mention the Redbirds just have this knack for producing a guy who steps up when it matters (Kolten Wong is this year’s example).
As for the rest of the National League, let’s talk about the Mets for a minute. A once dormant offense was brought to life with the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, the resuscitation of Lucas Duda, and the return of David Wright. Not to mention the New Yorkers can trot out no worse than an “A-” starter throughout a five-man rotation. Then there’s the Dodgers. Los Angeles can deal two aces, a reasonable bullpen, and more offensive firepower than the U.S. Navy at Iwo Jima.
In the Junior Circuit, the Royals have just as much young talent as the Cubs; perhaps not in quality but certainly in quality. Kansas City also features what may be the best bullpen in the bigs. Having said all that, right now the Toronto Blue Jays are the best team in baseball, and it’s going to be a tall order for anybody to beat them.
JFI Point#5) Jake Arrieta.
J-Dub has accused me of having a man crush on Arrieta. Guilty as charged. I think he should be a serious Cy Young contender, since he’s sporting a 19-6 record, a 1.96 ERA, a 209-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a microscopic 0.92 WHIP. Not to mention, he’s come up big when the Cubs have needed him most. Remember the recent west coast trip where the Cubs lost 2 of 3 in San Francisco, then dropped the first 2 games against the Dodgers? Remember how Jake Arrieta came up big as the “stopper” by firing a no-hitter? I can see this guy doing a Madison Bumgarner impression in the post season.
J-Dub Counter-Point #5) The Non-Arrieta Cubs’ pitching staff, especially the bullpen
Arrieta might be able to pull off a Bumgarner-like pitching performance, but at the plate, Arrieta’s best chance to contribute is to take contact like Ray Rice’s wife. Jon Lester is an over-achieving #3 pitcher getting “ace” money, which means he faces far too many post-season opportunities to get paired in a pitching match-up in which he faces a major disadvantage. Dan Haren, Kyle Hendricks, and Jason Hammel form the remainder of the starting rotation, and they can all be seen warming up at a landfill near you. In other words, they’re garbage.
But they shine in comparison to that collection of slag-heaps known as the Cubs’ bullpen. Hector Rondon, the closer who couldn’t close a screen door. The setup guy, Pedro “Strops” you from winning. The Cubs knew the bullpen was an issue, and the only move they made to bolster it was to go landfill scavenging with the likes of the failed Rafael Soriano experiment and the soon-to-be failed chance they took on Fernando Rodney. Realistically, the best move the Cubs made was the addition of journeyman lefty Clayton Richard.
The Cubs are in the play-offs. That’s pretty much a lock at this point. But they are in that one-game Wild Card play-off which J-Dub hates. His biggest beef with it is everything else in baseball is about series. The other exception is a one-game playoff at the end of season if two team are tied for a post-season slot, but that is a rant for another time. Once a team gets into the post-season, there’s no way a great season should have to end on the flukes which can happen in one ball game. In this case, both the Cubs and whoever they face should have plenty of time to get their rotations set and get some rest for everybody before October, but this format still means somebody season could end on one weird hop.
JFI thinks the Cubs can finally exorcise the curse of the “Billy Goat, the collapse chasing the 1969 “Miracle” Mets, Leon Durham and Steve Garvey in 1984, and last but not least, the Bartman game? J-Dub says forget about the “Billy Goat,” the Cubs’ real problem is the scapegoat they made of Steve Bartman. The gods who dictate the karma of baseball should deal the Cubs at least one more heartbreak for what they did to that poor guy.
JFI also knows that simply mentioning “Steve Bartman” makes J-Dub’s blood pressure go up by about 775 points. Not because he’s a Cubs’ fan, but because he has a collective hatred of all Cubs fans who want to blame Steve Bartman for the 2003 play-off loss to the Florida Marlins. J-Dub will be the first to tell you that Cubs fans all love to forget some crucial facts about that infamous game:
You’ve heard from the bloggers, now it’s your turn…