(Editor’s note: We’ll analyze each team’s postseason chances after it clinches a playoff berth.)
The Chicago Cubs clinched a postseason berth on Friday…let that sink in.
It’s been a while since the Cubbies qualified for the playoffs (2008 to be precise), and they are the third NL Central team to join the playoff party this season.
Long-suffering Cubs fans have had a lot to be excited about this season, from the maturation of Anthony Rizzo to an MVP-caliber threat to Jake Arrieta’s impressive Cy Young-worthy year (and no-hitter over the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers). First-year manager Joe Maddon, who said earlier this week that the Cubs will "party hard" after clinching, has brought with him the same kind of quirky-yet-effective managing style that helped him lead the upstart Tampa Bay Rays to the postseason for several seasons. He even brought a flamingo to a recent press conference … because, why not, right?
So, with the Cubs now set to appear in the postseason, it’s time to evaluate their chances of going all the way. Do they have what it takes?
Why they can win the World Series: Youth and inexperience can go a long way — just look at the 2014 Kansas City Royals. They weren’t expected to do anything, let alone make a charge late in the season for the top wild-card spot. They weren’t supposed to sweep the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS, sweep the Orioles in the ALCS or make the World Series — let alone take the San Francisco Giants all the way to a thrilling Game 7 before falling just short.
Many folks say that it doesn’t matter which is the "best" team is in the postseason, since it’s a crapshoot (according to gurus like Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane). If the Cubs are able to get past the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game (assuming the Cardinals hold on and win the NL Central), there’s no telling what they might accomplish.
Why they can’t win the World Series: When you haven’t won a championship since 1908, there’s an otherworldly sense of pressure associated with everything. How will the Cubs’ young core react to the high-stakes atmosphere of the postseason?
If they get past the Wild Card Game, they’d then have to deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs are 8-11 against their arch-rival Cards this season, and the Redbirds are notorious playoff performers that could prove to be a thorn in the Cubs’ side. Even if the Cubs squeak past St. Louis, they’d then have to deal with either the Dodgers’ two-headed pitching monster of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke or the Mets’ young and highly heralded pitching staff.
A Cubs-Mets NLCS would no doubt be quite thrilling, if it materializes.
Also, there’s this: Chicago is fifth in the NL with 166 home runs, so they have firepower – but homers aren’t always easy to come by in the postseason (or so they say). The Cubs are tied for sixth in the NL in runs scored and are fifth in the NL in team ERA.
In Jon Lester, Chicago has a noted playoff performer who has been to the promised land before. Maddon has coached a young team all the way to the World Series, and he could do it again. The youthful hitters on the Cubs — and how they perform in the postseason with the immense pressure of a hungry, die-hard fan base — will be incredibly interesting to watch.
And if they find a way to win the World Series, well … that would make for quite a parade.