SAN FRANCISCO — The Cubs’ journey through the 2016 postseason was never going to be easy.
But that’s probably stating the obvious.
No one needs to be told about the North Siders’ World Series drought. And everyone knew it would require some serious heavy lifting for the Cubs to get past San Francisco — a team that never met an elimination game it didn’t like — in the divisional round.
Job 1 — killing the pests that just won’t die — is done. The Cubs’ furious, ferocious four-run rally for a 6-5 victory in Tuesday’s Game 4 saw to that.
But still, there’s the whole recent history of best teams in baseball falling flat in the playoffs. In 21 seasons since the league expanded its postseason format to include a divisional round, only four times has the team with the best regular-season record gone on to win it all.
If Cubs fans found themselves bracing for disappointment during the opening round against the Giants, they’re going to have to get used to the feeling. It’ll be back, and back again, because that’s just how this thing works. The championship odds weren’t in their favor — as they never are for any one team — entering the playoffs, and pros in Vegas probably would tell you they still aren’t.
Not because all Cubs teams are doomed to lose.
“Nobody (on the Cubs) really cares about a curse or a goal or anything else, you know what I mean?” pitcher Jon Lester said.
It’s just ridiculously hard to beat any one team in a playoff series, let alone a string of quality opponents.
“When you get to shorter series, the potential of a lot of awkward things happening or unsuspecting things happening and really making an impact I think (is) greater,” manager Joe Maddon said.
The two games the Cubs and Giants played at AT&T Park — absolute classics —certainly exemplified that.
The other National League playoff series has, too. It’s fun to ponder the likelihood that Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw’s left arm is tired after he pitched on short rest in Tuesday’s Game 4. Also pretty nice, potentially, for the Cubs that Nationals ace Max Scherzer will pitch in Thursday’s Game 5.
Neither team would be able to pitch its ace in Saturday’s Game 1 at Wrigley Field, which means not maximizing its go-to guy in the NLCS. Advantage, Cubs. But does it really matter?
In the big picture, it doesn’t seem to. For the Cubs, a series against either NLCS foe will be a difficult journey in itself.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.