NLDS Preview: How Cubs and Giants Match-Up

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs begin their World Series push with the difficult task of facing the San Francisco Giants. As many are fully aware, the Giants have won the World Series in every even year of this decade–2010, 2012, and 2014. To the casual fan it might not seem like a big deal given that 2016 is just another year. To the baseball fan it is an obstacle the team must contend with as superstition, history, and tradition surrounds and permeates baseball unlike any other sport. Manager Joe Maddon referenced the great John Wooden in saying that he is just focused on his team playing the right way and not focused on the opponent. If his team plays the right way the whatever happens he can live with. As the Cubs have shown all season, if they play fundamentally sound baseball they are a difficult team to beat.

The Cubs and Giants played seven times this season with the Cubs winning the season series 4-3. Most recently, the teams faced each other four times at Wrigley at the beginning of September with the Cubs taking three out of four. However, each game was a one-run game and the last of which went into extra innings. It goes to show just how close these teams are to each other.

A further statistical comparison explains that there is not too much distance between the two. The Cubs starting pitching ERA was by far the best in baseball with a 2.96 average. However, the Giants starters were not too far behind with a 3.71 ERA, which ranked them fifth overall in MLB. The bullpens will certainly come into play this series and despite the differences in ranking the bullpens are not far a part either in terms of team ERA. The Cubs bullpen ranked eighth in ERA with a 3.56 average while although the Giants ranked 15th they still had an ERA of 3.65. The main difference between the two is that the Cubs acquired flamethrower Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline; whereas, the Giants bullpen consistently faltered in the second half to the point where they almost did not make the playoffs.

The offensive-side is quite similar as well. The Giants team batting average was .258, which was good for 11th in MLB. The Cubs were not too far behind with a .256 average, good for 14th overall. The biggest discrepancy between the two teams is probably in runs scored. The Cubs finished the season ranked third overall with 808 runs, while the Giants were ranked 19th with just 715 total runs. This could be explained in the difference of team home runs as the Cubs finished the 2016 season with 199 home runs. The Giants, on the other hand, only had 130 home runs. The 69 home run difference is a big reason for the gap in runs and could be a difference-maker.

The Cubs overall have a formidable playoff starting rotation of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey. However, the Giants new starting rotation with the addition of Matt Moore before the trade deadline is almost as strong. They boast October legend in the making Madison Bumgarner, last season’s World Series hero in Johnny Cueto, and former Cub Jeff Samardzija to go along with Moore. Luckily the Cubs don’t have to face Bumgarner until Game 3 and not Game 1 having pitched a complete game shutout in the Wild Card Game against the New York Mets.

The Giants also have catcher Buster Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and first baseman Brandon Belt. The Cubs, though, have the top two front runners for National League MVP in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Moreover, for the Cubs they have arguably the most versatile team as Bryant has played six positions this season, while Javier Baez can play outfield and any infield position. Ben Zobrist can play outfield as well as his usual second base. Finally, starting catcher Willson Contreras can also play outfield and has the athletic ability to play infield if the circumstances dictated as such.

With the team’s so evenly matched the series is going to come down to the intangibles and the bullpen. It is going to come down to the ability of Managers Joe Maddon and Bruce Bochy’s to manufacture runs when given the opportunity. The difference in this series will be which team is able to get runners over, to take the extra base, or to make the defensive play when needed.

Many believed that the Cubs would breeze through the NLDS, but this certainly will not be the case. The Cubs and Giants series will be an all out war and whoever can do the little things best will come out on top. The Cubs set themselves up for home field advantage, so it’s important for them to go to the Bay Area up 2-0 against Bumgarner. There is no doubt that Maddon has his team prepared for this series, now the anticipation rests on seeing if everything will pay off.

NLDS Game 1
The first game of the series will see Jon Lester against Johnny Cueto. This is a tough pitching matchup for both offenses. Each lineup has had limited success against the other. The current Cubs roster, in total, has 141 at-bats against Cueto and only has surrendered two home runs–one to Anthony Rizzo and one to Chris Coghlan. Kris Bryant has had moderate success against Cueto going three for five.

The two players that Lester has struggled with in tonight’s lineup is Posey and Denard Span. Posey is 5 for 16 with a home run and two RBI while Span is 8 for 28 with 3 RBI. What Lester had going for him is that he has pitched quality starts in all 21 of his home games this year. If he is able to duplicate that and pitch deep into the game then the Cubs should be in good hands with Hector Rondon and Chapman.

NOTE
I recommend Cubs fans to read this remarkable story on si.com from Senior Writer Michael Rosenberg about the life of Steve Goodman, the songwriter to “Go, Cubs, Go.”

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