With several National League powerhouse teams struggling, the Chicago Cubs could face some unfamiliar October foes come postseason time.
The perfect example of how unique 2018 has been is that Daniel Murphy is in a Chicago Cubs uniform, leading the team through a pennant race as they enter the stretch run. The Cubs have faced Murphy in two of the past three postseasons, where he rightfully earned his spot at the top of the list of biggest Cubs killers in all of baseball.
‘Murph’ is now donning the blue pinstripes while his previous teams, (Mets and Nationals) have turned into sellers amidst disappointing seasons.
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If the season were to end today, the Cubs would be the one seed in the NL, everything else is up for grabs. The Diamondbacks and Rockies are in a deadlock atop the NL West, and the Cubs would play the winner of a Cardinals-Brewers Wild Card Game in the first round of the playoffs.
Over the last three seasons, the Cubs offense has struggled against dominant pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. None of those pitchers are in the playoffs as of now.
In fact, veteran Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals is the only starting pitcher who has faced the Cubs in the postseason – of all the teams currently positioned to play in October. Wainwright worked out of the bullpen in the 2015 NLDS due to injury, and is currently rehabbing from another stint on the disabled list.
Besides the Cardinals, the only other team in the National League with recent history against the Cubs in the playoffs that is still in the hunt are the Dodgers. L.A sits just one game back of the Rockies and Diamondbacks in the N.L West. If the Dodgers were to make a push and face the Cubs in a playoff series, it would mark the third straight year in which the two teams had a playoff series. Last year the Dodgers dominated the Cubs in the NLCS, winning four games-to-one.
The Dodgers are fighting problems within their bullpen, but remain the Cubs biggest threat. Kershaw and Rich Hill remain steady at the top of their rotation, and their lineup has major upgrades from last season, most notably Manny Machado.
What this means for the Cubs
The Cubs are the clear favorite to win the National League pennant. With no other team in the league as well-balanced (at least on paper), Chicago needs to continue their stretch of good baseball and build some momentum heading into the playoffs.
As far as the likely scenario where the team will face new pitching, it’s a major benefit. The Cubs offense fell flat last postseason, despite squeaking out an NLDS win against the Nationals. They were often outmatched against great pitching from both the Nationals, and especially the Dodgers.
Nothing against guys such as Zack Greinke, Sean Newcomb, Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty or Kyle Freeland, but they aren’t Kershaw or Scherzer. There’s always a threat of an unexpected hurler dominating in the postseason. After coming up flat against some of the premier starting pitching in all of baseball last season, the Cubs would welcome the opportunity to see some new faces.
If the Dodgers were to miss out on the playoffs, the path to the World Series should be easier for the Cubs to manage in 2018. However, they have work to do to finish off their NL Central rivals first.