MLB Playoffs 2017: Predicting the NL Playoff picture
This division appears to be headed down to the final weekend. Or it could be on its last legs as the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are underway in a huge series this weekend.
While Chicago can all but deliver the knockout blow to the Brewers, this division has stayed close all season long. Even the St. Louis Cardinals still technically have a shot. However, the Wild Card is more in their view.
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It hasn’t been easy throughout the season, but the Cubs do have the best record in the NL since the All-Star Break (42-22), the best record in the division (39-27), and have been getting healthier in recent days.
First with the return of Addison Russell last weekend against the Cardinals, and then Jake Arrieta (14-9, 3.43 ERA), who pitched well Thursday against the Brewers.
Anthony Rizzo has had a great season, hitting .278 with 32 home runs, 108 RBI. What’s impressive about his season has been his career-high in walks (86) against just 87 strikeouts.
Last year’s MVP, Kris Bryant, has seen his BB percentage increase (14.4 percent), setting a career-high with 91 so far, and his strikeouts are down three percent from a year ago.
Bryant’s OPS of .942 is also better than a year ago.
The second-half has also been led by the likes of Kyle Schwarber (.251/.339/.575,16 HR, 25 RBI), Willson Contreras (.308 BA, 10 HR, 32 RBI), and Javier Baez (.295, 12 HR, 39 RBI).
Baez, especially from the defensive side (3.4 dWAR), taking over for Addison Russell at shortstop (Baez: .862 RZR at SS) throughout the year.
How they got here
The Cubs, having won eight of nine, and up 4.5 games, can clinch the Central as early as Sunday.
One area that has been a strength of late is their offense.
Chicago made franchise-history with the long ball in 2017, and they have their most homers as a team since 2004 (212). They also have six players who have hit 20 or more home runs, setting a team-record, and five under the age of 25, setting a ML-record.
In the second-half, the Cubs lead the league in home runs with 95. They are also first among RBI, BA, OPS, SLG, and OPS. The Cubs are second in walks.
The Cubs’ rotation also stepped up in a big way in the second-half (31-13, 3.51 ERA). With Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks (3-2, 2.42 ERA), looking more like his 2016 ERA-leader self, and Jose Quintana (6-3, 3.95 ERA in Chicago), they appear as a rather formidable group.
Jon Lester (3-1, 5.91 ERA in September) is a bit of a mystery.
It’s been a struggle at times, particularly for the bullpen (4.84 ERA 2nd-half) but the Chicago Cubs have gotten the wins and gone on the rolls they have needed to at the most crucial time.
Likely headed for another 90-win season, the Cubs are going to face the Washington Nationals in the NLDS.