Every bit of logic points to the Cubs, the best team in baseball by a significant margin, ending the season as the World Series champions.
History tells us something different, though. The tale of the Cubs' quest to win the World Series, a quest which is now at 108 years, is littered with years like this.
Logic doesn’t win in October. Logic can’t overcome the pressure — a pressure you can’t possibly imagine — that will push against the Cubs like a hydraulic press the closer and closer they get to the title.
I’m a Chicagoan. I was there in 2003, when logic went from “The Cubs are darkhorses” to “they’re going to win this thing.” I saw what happened the moment expectations changed — I saw what happened when that plan was derailed by the tiniest of margins. Those 2003 Cubs cracked under the pressure — they weren’t good enough.
It was clear at that moment what would be necessary for the Cubs to win the World Series.
The Cubs have been in the playoffs three times since the 2003 collapse, but in none of those three appearances have they passed muster.
The pressure of the postseason is the biggest obstacle in the Cubs’ path to winning the World Series, and it is unavoidable. The Boston Red Sox finally broke through and won in 2004 because they had already lost, having gone down 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the ALCS. With nothing left to lose — no team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit — they put together the best comeback in baseball history. The pressure was off, and the Red Sox finally broke through.
That system won’t work for the Cubs, because the pressure is even greater in Chicago than it is in Boston.
In order for the Cubs to win the World Series, they need to be nearly twice as good as every other team in baseball, because the closer they get to the pennant, the pressure of the situation will become so crippling that the team will have no choice but to regress. If the Cubs were equal to their opponent, that regression would tilt the series out of their favor.
But if the Cubs were say 50 percent better than their opponent, the pressure of the situation — like a vice clamping down on the team’s collective chest — would only bring them to equal standing.
In other words: Because of the pressure that comes from being the Chicago Cubs and playing deep into October, the team that ends up breaking The Curse will have to be so much better than the field that they couldn’t possibly screw it up.
This Cubs team is that good.
There are other teams in the playoffs that can win the World Series — the Dodgers and Red Sox are two top contenders — but those teams have weaknesses. The Cubs don’t have a weakness, save for The Curse.
When you’re worried about last year’s Cy Young winner, despite his 3.69 second-half ERA (when your team’s top two pitchers boast sub-2 ERAs in the second half, this is a problem …) you’re above the fray.
The Cubs have the best offense in baseball, and it’s not really that close. They have the best defense in baseball, and it’s not that close. They have the best bullpen in the postseason, and it’s not much of an argument. They have the best starting pitching, even with Jake Arrieta’s egregious 3.69 second-half ERA stinking up the joint…
The have the best manager for the situation, too — if there’s anyone who can keep a team loose in October, it’s Joe Maddon.
The Cubs are head and shoulders above the rest going into this postseason — if there’s any team that can do it, it’s this one: a young, dominant, and prohibitive favorite that has everything going for it heading into the postseason.
But perhaps the biggest advantage the Cubs have hasn’t been discussed yet.
If the Cubs fail, they’ll probably be back in the same situation next year. They’ve heard that before on the North Side — the 2003 team never recreated the magic, but that squad was built in a much different manner: it was lightning in a bottle. This Cubs’ team is a heavily scrutinized lab experiment. It was built to last by the best in the business.
If the Cubs win a single game in the NLCS this year, 2016 is progress. It’ll be a disappointment, no doubt, but it’ll still be progress.
The pressure is going to come, but it's clear that this is the Cubs team that can overcome that force.