Chicago Cubs start the postseason with pressure elsewhere
This postseason, the pressure won’t be on the Chicago Cubs. There will, of course, be some. But nothing like it was last year.
For their third straight season, the Chicago Cubs will be in the postseason. The Cubs became the National League Central Division Champions Wednesday night following a 5-1 win over the Cardinals. The Cubs will roll out September call up-heavy lineups for their final four regular-season games as they begin to look to their NLDS opponent: The Washington Nationals.
The Nationals have had a dominant season. Their rotation helms up to three Cy Young candidates. They have at least one MVP candidate in right fielder Bryce Harper with third basemen Anthony Rendon likely to receive at least a vote or two as well. The Nationals pose as a formidable opponent to the Cubs, but one player’s presence in the batter box may be the most dreaded by the Cubs’ pitching staff.
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Daniel Murphy was playing for the Mets when the Cubs started the 2015 NLCS in New York. The Cubs were coming off a triumphant 3-1 division series victory over their rivals the Cardinals.
Morale was high both in the clubhouse and among the fan base. The Cubs were ahead of their rebuild schedule and were four victories away from reaching the World Series. Daniel Murphy and the Mets stopped the Cubs in their tracks.
Murphy slashed .529/.556/1.294 against Cubs’ pitching that series. He would go on to win the NLCS MVP in the sweep. In his career, Murphy slashes .309/.350/.577 in 103 plate appearances against Cubs’ pitching. He particularly dominates starters Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Jon Lester. He bats .316, .353 and .286 against them respectively.
Their time again?
While on paper they may look outmatched by the Nationals, the 2017 Cubs have been a different team since the All-Star break. Since then, they lead the league in slugging (.465), on-base percentage (.356), runs scored (401) and wRC+ (113). Unlike last season, the Cubs also stand to benefit from the pressure falling elsewhere.
Last October the Cubs’ carried the weight of a 108-year championship drought. They had won the most games of any major league team in the regular season. This year, the Cubs weren’t guaranteed a postseason appearance until deep into September.
This year’s Nationals team have a drought of their own to break. The Nationals have yet to win a postseason series, and now the pressure is starting to amass.
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Their pursuit of the National League West title went largely uncontested in 2017. The rotation rolls out one of baseball’s best pitchers every fifth night and two top 15 pitchers on ensuing nights. Their lineup contains two MVP candidates and an additional hitter ranking among the top 10 in batting average. Their regular season success may have fans hoping this will be the year the Nationals will make a run/
They will be competing in the NLDS for their fourth time with nothing to show for it. Their lack of success in October may way heavy on the Nationals as they try to seal their first postseason series victory over the Cubs.