Cubs could see contention window extend with expanded postseason

Chicago Cubs (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /

If the MLB postseason field expands moving forward, the Chicago Cubs could be one of the teams poised to capitalize as the team begins a new era.

As the league and the player’s association continue their unfruitful back-and-forth discussions over how best to proceed with a 2020 baseball season, there have been some common threads. One being the designated hitter coming to the National League and the other an expanded postseason field – something that could benefit the Cubs in a big way.

In a normal world, the 2020 calendar already represented a ‘Last Dance’ of sorts for this Cubs team. Elder statesman Jon Lester is in the final guaranteed year of the six-year deal he inked prior to the 2015 campaign and trade talks swirled around virtually every player on the roster this offseason, most notably former Rookie of the Year and MVP Kris Bryant. 

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After next year, the team’s core will likely head its separate ways: Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber are all slotted to hit the open market. The pitching staff has more questions than answers and there’s little doubt the 2022 variation of the Cubs will look wildly different than the one we’ve grown accustomed to.

Knowing change is on the horizon, most expect the team’s current competitive window to close pretty soon. But if the league adopts an expanded postseason field not only in 2020 and 2021, but beyond, Chicago might be able to sneak in and play in October while re-tooling under manager David Ross.

Some of the latest proposals would expand the postseason to seven teams from each league. Let’s think about how the National League shapes up to consider how the Cubs would benefit from such a move.

Out west, there’s realistically one team that’s a lock for October – Los Angeles. The Dodgers have maintained a stranglehold on the division for nearly a decade and that doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon. On the fringe, a team like Arizona might be a contender, as well – but only in the sense of a wild card berth.

In the NL East, it’s a different story: Washington and Atlanta look like the favorites – and the Mets could always put together a run behind Pete Alonso. Still, without Noah Syndergaard in the rotation, that seems like a bit of a stretch as things currently stand.

Which brings us to the Central. We’re calling Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington near-locks to make an expanded postseason field – which leaves four berths. Arizona is a factor and the Mets can’t be ruled out, either. When it comes down to it, you have to talk about the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals in this division.

I’d say the Brewers don’t have what it takes – but I’ve said this for the past few years and wound up eating crow at season’s end. St. Louis somehow pulls it together every single season and I think their trade for Matthew Liberatore is going to pay off in a big way for a very, very long time.

Circling back to the Cubs – no one knows what the future holds. But they’ve got the pieces to at least stay on the fringes of the postseason picture in the short-term. I expect the front office to get a deal done with Javier Baez, who will anchor the next core on the North Side. In my mind, it’s going to come down to pitching.

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Regardless, Chicago has enough on the roster and in the system to be competitive. An expanded postseason picture is good for baseball – and could be particularly beneficial to a team like the Cubs, whose competitive window may shut a little more slowly than we expect it to.