This Major League Baseball season has belonged to the Chicago Cubs, as the team from the north side of Chicago has been responsible for one of the best starts in the history of MLB. From top to bottom it looks like the Cubs’ roster will be one of the few left standing as the postseason goes on, as they will be the favorite to win the World Series until someone proves that they can knock the Cubs off of their perch. So can the Cubs be defeated? If so, who are the biggest contenders to their throne?
Chicago Cubs’ Historic Start
Everything about the Chicago Cubs has been near perfect so far in this Major League Baseball campaign. They have 25 wins to just 8 losses, easily the best record in MLB to this point in the campaign. But even more impressive than the Cubs’ great record are the numbers that have gone into putting up that win total, some of which are downright terrifying to opposing clubs looking to beat the Cubs once October comes around.
The Cubs have three starting pitchers with earned run averages below 2.00 as of right now, with Jake Arrieta being the leader among them. Arrieta is on one of the best stretches in the history of Major League Baseball for a pitcher, with a run dating back to last season that will go down as one of the best years ever by an individual. It is unlikely that the Cubs continue to pitch this well, but if they can even stay close to this level, they will be major players for an elusive title.
Hitters have also propelled the Cubs, with the team putting up a National League best 197 runs to this point in the season. Even with injuries to middle of the lineup staples like Kris Bryant, the Cubs have had great production from the likes of Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo who have buoyed them through some uncertain times. What makes this even more terrifying for opponents is that eventually Bryant will be back healthy, making a great lineup even better.
In all, the Cubs have a run differential of +99 so far this season. That is just two fewer runs than the Atlanta Braves have scored all season to this point, and speaks to just how dominant the Cubs have been. But with plenty of other teams looking to steal the spotlight from the Cubs come October, let’s take a look at some other clubs who have a chance to defeat the Cubs when it matters most and keep the Chicago Cubs’ curse alive.
While the Chicago Cubs did manage to sweep the Washington Nationals in a recent series, the Nationals still have the ability to go toe to toe with any team in Major League Baseball in a playoff series. Their pitching is good enough to hang with anyone, with a rotation led by perennial all-star Max Scherzer. Scherzer struck out 20 batters in a game earlier in the week, tying a record held in part by former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood.
Also making the Nationals a huge threat is their lineup, led by the incomparable Bryce Harper. Harper is truly the face of Major League Baseball at this point in his career, with his potent bat responsible for much of the damage done by the Nationals’ offense. The only issue with this is that his disproportionate production on his team has led many teams to intentionally walk him in big spots to get to hitters who have struggled to make them pay for that strategic decision.
New York Mets
Pitching is still the name of the game for the New York Mets, who come into this season looking to improve upon last year, in which they made the World Series despite losing to the Kansas City Royals. As we saw last year, the Mets’ rotation is more than capable of shutting down the Cubs, as the Mets defeated them in the National League Championship Series last season to get to the aforementioned World Series.
This season, only one team in MLB has conceded fewer runs than the Mets, and that team is the Chicago Cubs. The difference in runs allowed between the two teams is just five runs, which would come out to virtually no difference when condensed into the small sample size of a five or seven game playoff series. If the Mets and Cubs were to meet in the playoffs, it would be incredibly tense and the margin for error for each team would be virtually nonexistent, which could cause a collapse by either team.
St. Louis Cardinals
Here’s the thing with the St. Louis Cardinals: they always find a way to defy explanation. They haven’t been playing very well this season, as they are hovering around the .500 mark. But if there’s one team that you can expect to be in the playoff picture as October nears, it’s the Cardinals, and their experience on the big stages in October could make them a huge problem for the Cubs as Chicago looks to break its north side title drought.
You have to remember that the Cubs will only be in their second real playoff run with their current core group of players this October. Now compare that to the Cardinals, who routinely qualify for and win World Series championships against other great and experienced clubs. That experience gap could be more important than any talent gap that may exist between the Cubs and their National League Central rivals.
In all, there are plenty of teams capable of taking the Chicago Cubs down in the Major League Baseball playoffs. That is the nature of a sport that relies on such small sample sizes in the playoffs. But with the way the Cubs have pitched this season, it is truly going to take the best effort possible from any of those teams in order to beat Chicago and deny the Cubs their long awaited championship.
By: Jason Sanin