You might’ve heard — heck, maybe even cared a little — about the soccer story heard ’round the world on Monday.
Leicester City pulled off the mother of all Cinderella stories by winning England’s Premier League. It was the first league championship in the 132-year history of a club known previously for one thing above all else, and that’s — how would Joe Maddon put it? — “sucking.”
In short, Leicester brought an end to the kind of century-plus drought all Cubs fans can relate to.
But let’s not twist ourselves into a comparison between the Cubs and some far-flung soccer team. It’s a faulty comparison, anyway. If Maddon’s Cubs win the World Series in 2016, the whole world will have seen it coming. Leicester, on the other hand, faced preseason odds reported to have been 5,000-to-1.
That’s more like the Rick Renteria or Dale Sveum Cubs winning it all.
No, there’s a far more apt comparison for what these best-in-baseball Cubs are trying to accomplish. A more analogous story of excellence, and it’s continuing to unfold much closer to home.
We mean the Golden State Warriors, of course.
The Warriors are everything the Cubs want to be. They’re deeper and more talented than everybody else. They’re closer-knit than a bunch of millionaire celebrities are supposed to be able to be. They’re the most fun, most talked-about team in their sport.
And — big and — they’re dominating their league despite playing in the NBA’s vastly superior conference.
The Western Conference is home to the Spurs, the Thunder, the the Clippers. The East? It’s LeBron James’ Cavs and a whole lot of bupkis.
The Cubs, meanwhile, at 19-6, are in the early stages of tearing their way through the National League, which seems pretty clearly to be far superior to the American League. The Nationals are hugely talented. The defending N.L. champion Mets appear to be much-improved. The Giants, Dodgers and Cardinals are lurking.
Who’s the top squad in the A.L.? The .500ish Royals are the defending major league champs, but they sure aren’t playing anything like it. Is it the White Sox? Maybe it is. Good team, the White Sox. Fine team.
But you get the point.
The 1985 Bears won the Super Bowl during a 13-year run of dominance for the NFC over the AFC. That made it harder for the Bears to get to the Super Bowl, but it also made them better.
Likewise, the Jordan Bulls had the Pistons, the Cavaliers, the Knicks, the Pacers — championship-quality Eastern Conference opponents — to fight through. Being in the tougher conference was an important part of the deal.
But perhaps the Cubs resemble the Warriors most of all. The Warriors, who’ve come together and flourished so remarkably that they’re still at the top of their game despite the temporary absence of the NBA’s MVP, Stephen Curry, who’s battling injuries.
And while we’re at it, we might as well go ahead and call Jake Arrieta the Cubs’ version of Curry. Both players are doing things statistically that haven’t been done before.
Hey, it’s early May. It’s probably hard for a lot of us to keep from getting ahead of our skis when talking about this Cubs team.
Yet a Cubs team like this one, we’ve not seen before.
Up: Anthony Rizzo can hit .230 all season as long as he maintains his current productivity in RBI situations. Entering Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh, Rizzo was hitting nearly 100 points higher — .324 — with runners in scoring position, with a ridiculous OPS of 1.276. Yeah, that’ll work.
Down: No one should be overly alarmed by Jason Heyward’s slow start at the plate. His career batting average in April is, after all, an unsightly .225. The lack of pop in Heyward’s bat is unusual, though; he has 21 career homers in April, his second-best long-ball month. Still none this season.
Up: A season-long story line could be the Cubs and their warm-and-fuzzy relationship with bases on balls. In short: They draw more walks than any other team in baseball, and they surrender fewer walks than all but one team. That’ll work, too.
1 THROUGH 9
1. Cubs: The only staff in baseball with a sub-1.0 WHIP. Also the only staff holding opponents to a sub-.200 batting average. And just imagine if that Arrieta guy starts holding up his end of the bargain.
2. Nationals: The Nationals’ staff has been right there with the Cubs’ all along, and did you notice that natty little weekend sweep in St. Louis? It came without a hit from Bryce Harper, too.
3. Mets: An eight-game winning streak to close April had to send a chill down the spines of Cubs fans. And if it didn’t, it should have.
4. White Sox: Who’s the best pitcher in Chicago? If you answered “Chris Sale,” you’re a Sox fan. And loving it.
5. Pirates: Started April with a home sweep of the Cardinals and ended it with a six-game winning streak. Andrew McCutchen isn’t doing much hitting yet, but that’ll certainly change.
6. Orioles: The top home-run squad in the American League, and the O’s are keeping their strikeouts relatively under control. Closer Zach Britton is Mr. Reliable.
7. Rangers: A tidy ERA for the starting rotation makes everything so much easier. So does beating up on the rest of the A.L. West.
8. Red Sox: Buy them or not, the Red Sox are the hottest team in the A.L. and are feasting on right-handed pitching. David Ortiz is crushing it at 40. (Can that last?)
9. Giants: Bruce Bochy’s club has pulled itself out of the stupor that allowed a miserable 1-8 slide. The bats are coming around. The arms are, too, with Jeff Smardzija holding down his spot in the rotation quite well.
AND ANOTHER THING
With outfielder Matt Szczur newly on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring, one has to wonder: Just how big a problem are injuries going to be for the Cubs this season?
Kyle Schwarber’s season-ender was one thing, but early trips to the DL for Miguel Montero and Szczur — each of whom was playing very well — are causes for concern, too. It’s only mild concern for now, but we all well know injuries have a way of snowballing.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.