We are in the final week of regular season baseball and fans are putting in their predictions. It’s any team’s game and we all know everything can change in the playoffs. Previously I have said that I have put my support behind Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs but I never said why. The Cubs have led the league in wins almost the entire season and they may seem like the safe choice, but for me choosing them to win the World Series is more calculated than just picking the favorite.
It’s no secret that I am a Joe Maddon fan. His unconventional coaching methods and fun loving team building exercises are unlike any other manager in the MLB. It’s true that Maddon has yet to win a World Series but winning manager of the year 3 times (2008 and 2011 AL, 2015 NL) is no small feat. Since the inception of the award in 1983, there have only been 4 mangers to win it in both the American and National League; Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox, and now Maddon. Although it is honorable for him to be in such good company, they all have a pennant and he is still chasing the dragon, but 2016 could be the season he catches it.
The Cubs starting rotation can be summed up in one word; dominant. The rotation is headed up by ace Jake Arrieta, but it’s safe to say there is no weak link in this chain of starters. Arrieta, John Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Matt Montgomery all have ERAs under 3. Additionally, John Lackey and Jason Hammel have ERAs under 3.6 that are far from shabby. Shutting down hitters is what this rotation does.
Unlike other team in the running for the pennant, the Cubs don’t have a slugger on their roster. That’s not to say that they lack power at the plate, but no hitter has an average over .300. What the Cubs do well is make the most of at bats and work them to the best of their ability. Maddon has been a champion of “taking the walk” because sometimes they can be just as valuable as a hit. Key players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, and Dexter Fowler are are shining examples of this philosophy. They are 4 of the most productive players on the field and at the plate. This mix of players embody the team a with a healthy mix of veterans and youth that make a team successful and durable in the long run.
One intangible factor that is in the Cubs favor is heart. Every team wants to win, but I don’t think there is any team that wants it more. The Cubs are considered the most cursed team in the MLB and they have never been in a better position to end it. This Cubs team has a combination of consistent strong pitching and productive at bats by the offense. Additionally, the team looks to have a good balance of personalities in the clubhouse where no one player appears to think they are more important than any other, a luxury other teams don’t have. Egos do no team any good in October.
If there is a weak link in this team it is the bullpen (excluding closer Aroldis Chapman). They are not bad by any means, but most boast an ERA between 2.5 and 3.5 and with only about ⅓ of the innings pitched as a starter, but most of the Cubs starters have better ERAs. Every throw counts in the playoffs, and hopefully this bullpen can step it up to close out a pennant.
Based on the above I feel like the Cubs have the best chance to win the NL Championship and the World Series. No other team has pitching to shut down sluggers and the offense to work at bat against any ace. At the end of the season everyone will be quoting Harry Caray; “Holy Cow! Cubs win!”