Who has the edge when the Cubs and Giants face off in the best-of-five National League Division Series? If the regular-season means anything — and the players say it doesn’t — it should be close.
The Cubs won four of the seven meetings this season, and the last five games between the teams were decided by one run (the Cubs winning three of the five).
STARTING PITCHING: Even
Over 162 games, the Cubs had the best rotation in baseball (2.96 ERA), one of only four rotations since 1990 to finish with an ERA under 3.00 (the Giants: 3.71). But when they drop to four-man crews, it evens out in a short series in which Johnny Cueto could face Jon Lester twice in a tossup pitching matchup, and in which all-time playoff ace Madison Bumgarner faces Jake Arrieta in Game 3.
RELIEF PITCHING: Cubs
Closing games was the Achilles heel of the Giants this season, their MLB-high 30 blown saves the biggest reason they didn’t win the National League West and went down to the final day before clinching a wild card berth. Their 3.65 bullpen ERA was the worst in the NL playoff field and eighth of the 10 MLB playoff teams. The Cubs would have had the edge even without Aroldis Chapman. But with the triple-digit closer, the Giants are faced with the proposition of the Cubs squeezing their opportunities to outscore the Cubs to seven innings.
The Cubs are by far the majors’ best team at turning batted balls into outs, with Gold Glove-caliber players at four or more positions, depending on their lineup for the day. But led by Gold Glove shortstop Brandon Crawford, the Giants are formidable, a distant second in the league, according to fangraphs.com.
Anchored by two MVP candidates in OPS stalwarts Bryant and Rizzo, the Cubs outscored the Giants by almost 100 runs this season (808-715), and last year’s playoff lineup took on more of an October look with the additions of veterans Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward and the return of Dexter Fowler. The Giants can be dangerous – especially Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. But Conor Gillaspie’s wild-card heroics notwithstanding, the lineup’s not much of a power threat and struggle in particular much of the second half.
With all due respect to Joe Maddon, the winner of three well deserved Manager of the Year awards, the Giants’ Bruce Bochy is widely considered the best manager in the game by a fair margin. And he has four trips to the World Series and three rings with underdog teams to back it up.
These guys have won every World Series in an even-numbered year since 2010, and most of the current regulars have at least two of those rings – including the 2014 one as a wild-card team. The Cubs? Six months of target embracing on the back end of a century’s worth of weight – and wait – to end the longest title drought in American sports.
BOTTOM LINE: Cubs win in 5