Two games into the playoffs and the Chicago Cubs have proved their worth. They win with pitching, defense, and offense. And with depth.
Two games. Two very different games, and yet the Chicago Cubs won them both. The first was a pitch-for-pitch gem by two great starters. The other, a game in which the Cubs put together consecutive hits and used their bullpen. In either case, they won.
There is no doubting the talent of the Cubs in 2016. Are they the best team in baseball? They did have the best regular season record by eight and a half games. What they may be is the most dangerous team.
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Best Pitching in MLB
We have heard about it all year. The pitching staff of the Cubs is statically the best in all of baseball. They allow the least amount of runs, 56 less than the next team. Add to that the least amount of hits (by 141), best WHIP, and top three in strikeouts per nine innings, and you have the ingredients for dominance.
We also know that they have three “number one” quality starters on the front end of the rotation. However, they are far more than their starters. The bullpen lead the MLB in batting average against (.210), earned runs (186), and is fourth in blown saves (15). Additionally, they are third in strikeouts per nine innings.
Take a look at Game 2 of the NLDS. The Cubs used five relievers in 5 1/3 innings against an above average San Francisco Giants offense. The Cubs bullpen shut them out. No runs, two hits, six strikeouts, and no walks. And, because of the way the bullpen is structured, Manager Joe Maddon has the ability to match left-handed and right-handed pitchers when appropriate.
The defense is better than advertised. All around the diamond. The infield has shown range and athleticism. The outfield can run down the baseball and keep runners. And the catchers are able to pick-off runners and keep block pitches in the dirt.
The stats hold this to be true: The Cubs have the best defense in the majors. They allowed only 3.43 runs per game, and have a defensive efficiency rating of .728. That means that almost 73% of all balls in play are turned into outs. Furthermore, they allowed 95 fewer runs than the average team in the MLB. All of this with 45 different position players.
What is more is that six of the top 20 players in defensive runs saved are Cubs: Addison Russell (4), Jason Heyward (5), Javier Baez (7). David Ross (14), Anthony Rizzo (16), and Kris Bryant (18). Now, several of those players are limited to one position, but not all. Most of the team plays multiple positions. Baez played ever position in the infield. Same with Bryant, plus outfield. Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras have also played infield and outfield.
So, there is depth. Flexible and versatile depth. Everyone plays and performs well wherever they are placed.
How many teams can reach down into their bench and feel comfortable with any player coming to the plate? Maddon knows that any player he calls upon will put together a quality at-bat. Also, they can all play defense. Need a pinch hitter? Well, options are Jorge Soler (14 HR), Contreras (12 HR), Albert Almora (.277 batting average), Chris Coghlan (.391 on-base percentage), and Tommy La Stella (.270 average). Hence, the options are great.
The Cubs scored 808 runs this year, good enough for third-best in the majors. Sure, their batting average is average. But their on-base percentage is the best in the National League. They do not hit into double plays, but they do leave runners on base. More so than any other team. And, they strikeout.
But, any player on any day can contribute. Addison Russell hit .238 but knocked in 95 runs. We know the prowess of Bryant and Rizzo as well, but it has been Baez that leads the way for the Cubs in the playoffs. Even in Game two, a pair of leadoff doubles from Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward sparked the scoring. Even the pitchers contribute to the production.
Pitching. Defense. Offense. They limit runners, limit scoring, and can use a variety of players to produce. The Cubs could be the most balanced and dangerous team in the playoffs. Seems like it to me.