Are the Chicago Cubs the scariest team in the playoffs?


Five compelling reasons other clubs are fearing the Cubs this postseason.

I’m not a professional baseball player. I just play one in my dreams. BUT, if I were a pro baller, I’d be scared of these Chicago Cubs. Sure, they’re young. Yes, they’ve shown a tendency to make some mistakes.

But it’s hard to argue with their record. They’re hanging with the big boys in the postseason–and they’re doing it with an ease and coolness that has to have other teams taking notice.

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So why the confidence? Why should watching this team make the hairs stand up on the back of others’ necks? There are five(ish) compelling reasons this team should be sending chills to others this October. And we’re going to thump them out right here…

Reason #1: Joe Maddon‘s unpredictability

It’s hard to tell what kind of team this is. Are they a station-to-station, wait-for-the-homer team? Are they small-ballers? Are they pitching and defense focused? The answer is “yes” to all of the above.

On any given day, Joe Maddon can send out a lineup reflecting a focus on defense, slugging, on-base ability, or speed. He’s born witness to that already in these playoffs, sending out a different lineup for each game.

In NLDS Game 2 against the Cardinals, we saw a focus on small-ball, as Maddon called for an unprecedented back-to-back safety squeeze, stealing two runs for the Cubs.

But on other occasions, Maddon seems focused on the long ball, finding creative ways to insert Kyle Schwarber into the lineup.

The Cubs are hanging with the big boys in the postseason–and they’re doing it with an ease and coolness that has to have other teams taking notice.

How Maddon uses his players reveals a boldness in the Cubs’ skipper’s strategizing that should unsettle some other teams. In attempts to get the right bats in the lineup, Maddon has moved his third baseman to left field (Kris Bryant), played a guy called up as a catcher all over the outfield (Schwarber), and hit his pitcher in the eight slot.

How do you prepare for this team when the manager moves so well to keep opponents off-balance?

Reason #2: The will of Jake Arrieta

What makes Jake Arrieta one of the best pitchers, if not the best, is that he is convinced he is one of the best. The proof exists in his tweet responding to some attempted intimidation from Pirates fans.

He’s made up his mind that he is good. He has willed himself good. It shows in his pitching. And it shows in his unwillingness to back down from unsettling situations.

Take a pitch off the hip from Tony Watson in last Wednesday’s game against the Pirates, for instance. Arrieta could have taken his base and stayed quiet–as many pitchers would have done in that situation.

Before Arrieta got to first, the benches had cleared, the pushing matches had come and gone, Sean Rodriguez had KO’d a water cooler, and the incident could have been laid in the past. It would have been easy for Arrieta to take his plunking and let the conflict rest.

He didn’t. The dude stole second base. Instead of letting the incident pass, Arrieta showed that he had the steel to handle some conflict and that he was not going to let a situation settle with someone else having an upper hand.

So he took off for second–and dropped a Josey Wales (big wad of spit) and a few choice words for Watson at second base.

Reason #2-A: Jake Arrieta’s beard 

Face it: the beard wins. He keeps vampire bats and other scary things in there. Rumors suggest that batters who stare at the beard too long turn to stone.

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Reason #3: The Clutch Brothers

Ben Lindbergh did some awesome leg work in a post over at Grantland, crunching a lot of numbers to figure out which players added the highest probability to their team winning a championship. Guess which player ranked the highest?

Anthony Rizzo.

Ranked fourth on the National League list of players was a teammate, Kris Bryant.

What this all amounts to is that when tension is high and the game is on the line, the Cubs feature two of the game’s most likely players to pull through in the clutch.

Reason #4: Bounce-back-ability

Admit it, Cubs fans: when we’re watching these playoff games, we’re watching for a moment of collapse, aren’t we? We’re looking for the next Bartman moment. The next grounder-past-Leon Durham moment. We’re looking for the next moment that is going to turn our hopes to fears and begin the collapse of our postseason dreams.

We’ve seen a couple of moments in this postseason that could have been collapse moments. Remember Addison Russell‘s bobble of the double-play ball against the Pirates? More recently, remember Javier Baez‘s lazy throw to first?

Well, forget about those moments. They didn’t matter.

Wasn’t it a beautiful moment when, after having just bobbled one double-play ball, Addison Russell made the perfect play begin two? Didn’t we see Javier Baez handle his next throw with ease and confidence?

This team doesn’t know they’re supposed to collapse. So when they make a mistake, they’re a major concern is making the next play right. And they do it.

Good grief this is refreshing.

Reason #5: They don’t seem to feel pressure

What’s with the hands rubbing the helmet thing the Cubs keep doing? Can we get someone to research the significance of that? From what I can tell, it’s just something they do to get a chuckle out of each other.

And it brings a feeling of levity to the playing field. Every time one of the Cubs gets to first base, he does it… and he always does it with a smile.

This team is loose and relaxed. And that, above all, should have other teams feeling uptight because this is not a team that is fearful of failure.

They are loose and having a good time, because they’re confident they’re good, they’re confident that when they get down they can come back, and they’re confident they’ve got the right leaders to get things done at the right times.

Yeah. This team isn’t feeling too nervous… and that should make the other playoff teams feel even more so.

Next: Cubs: Cardinals turn to John Lackey in Game 4