The Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball in the regular season thanks to great pitching and a powerful offense. Under the magnifying glass of the postseason, their offense is now being questioned.
It’s been said many times by many writers, including me, that in the postseason the minute victories and failures become increasingly more important than during the 162 game regular season. For example, the Chicago Cubs have only played in seven games this postseason. Each and every postseason team, even the best team in baseball, has had a seven game sample where they have struggled as well as a seven game sample where they have had great success. It’s what makes the playoffs incredibly exciting to watch. It is also what makes the playoffs so agonizing for fans hoping for a World Series Championship.
For the Chicago Cubs, there is more at stake. Like it or not, the Cubs and their fans are up against something completely different from the rest of the teams in the postseason. They face narratives in every direction, win or lose. If they lose this postseason, even due to bad luck and slumping at the wrong times, it will be considered another failure for the “cursed” Cubs. For those that don’t believe in curses, they will say that Theo Epstein’s plan is bogus or that the Cubs choked when it mattered most. Don’t think that will happen? Well, it’s happening already.
When the Cubs got shutout 1-0 by the Dodgers in Game 2, the narratives started flying off the shelves. Dieter Kurtenbach of Fox Sports wrote an article about the Cubs 3-4-5 hitters being the Cubs biggest weakness. He pointed out that the Cubs offense, especially in the middle of the order, have struggled during the entire postseason (just six games when he wrote the article), which was no more obvious than against Clayton Kershaw in Game 2. Yesterday Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs made his own comments on the Cubs offense, pointing out the small sample size, unlucky BABIP, and tendency to face outstanding pitching during the postseason.
Both Kurtenbach and Sullivan pointed out clear facts about the Cubs both during this postseason and during the regular season. The Cubs offense all season was heavily reliant on Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist hitting well in the middle of the lineup behind two hitters that got on base at an outstanding rate, Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant. When Addison Russell, another middle of the order hitter, was riding a hot streak the Cubs offense was at its best. The rest of the offense made its contributions; however those three hitters, just like middle of the order hitters on almost every team, were and are crucial to the team’s success.
In the postseason, all three hitters have struggled. They are a collective 7-for-69, with just two runs batted in. Ben Zobrist has 4 of those hits and both of the RBI. In other words, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell have been brutally bad in the postseason. Two of the three crucial hitters in the Cubs lineup have been horrendous, and another has struggled mightily. And yet, the Cubs are just three wins away from the World Series after dismantling the Giants bullpen, winning the NLDS, and beating the Dodgers in a close Game 1.
This is precisely why fans shouldn’t be worried about the Cubs offense. Yes, they have been shut out in back-to-back games, giving the Dodgers the lead in the series. However, they have made it this far on the top and bottom of their lineup alone. Most teams would not have survived the first series of the postseason with their best players struggling. The Cubs’ depth, unlike any other team, is so good that they were able to make it through the first round of the playoffs with relative ease without the heart of their order.
Another reason for positivity lies within the final paragraphs of Sullivan’s article where he points out how unlucky the Cubs have been in terms of BABIP. That alone suggests that the entire Cubs offense is likely to come around soon. When one considers the fact that Rizzo, Russell, and Zobrist are bound to rise out of their slumps as well, confidence can be instilled in fans of the Cubs in regard to their offense.
There’s plenty to be negative about as a Cubs fan, or even as a neutral fan viewing the NLCS, if that’s what one chooses. However, there is so much more to be positive about. The Chicago Cubs didn’t win 103 games by dumb luck. They are not likely to slump for a complete 7 game series the same way they have in the past two games. The heart of their order is one of the best in all of baseball, but it’s struggling. That is not likely to continue.
The Cubs face Julio Urias today, who has had a very up and down season. He has yet to go deep into a game, even when at his best. He struggled against this same Cubs lineup earlier in the season. Perhaps Game 4 is when the Cubs offense turns it around. Even if it isn’t, the Chicago Cubs are not dead until they lose a fourth game. They are not the best team in baseball for no reason at all.