The Best Team In Baseball Is Still Playing Baseball

We overanalyze the playoffs. And, yeah — in part it’s because we overanalyze everything. It’s the whole reason this place exists. But we always dig deep into October, because we all understand that playoff baseball is a different animal, a different twist on a familiar sport, and we want to wrap our minds around it. We’ve tested theories inspired by the Royals. We’ve tested theories inspired by the Giants. We’ve tested theories inspired by winners, because we want to know if we can better identify winners, before they win. Every October, we search for the key to the tournament. We search, as if there’s anything to find.

There’s not. Oh, sure, there are subtle things, but a playoff series is a coin flip, determined by a sequence of coin flips. The key is for one team to be a better baseball team than the other. Then the coin won’t flip so perfectly even. But so much of this is random. So much of this is random, that it can be hard to believe it’s not *completely* random. We’ve become so conditioned to saying the best teams aren’t always rewarded. When you have one great team, the overall odds are against it.

The overall odds were against the Cubs. If you were trying to figure out the NL pennant, it would’ve been smarter to bet on the field. That’s the reality of having to win two series in a row. But, bless these playoffs. Bless these playoffs, because at least in one of the leagues, there’s restored faith that October can be just. The Chicago Cubs were very obviously the best team. They get to keep playing another handful of ballgames.

The analysis here is so simple. As these Cubs go, there is no underdog story. Yeah, there’s the greater story of the franchise, but the story of these Cubs is as such: A floundering organization was rebuilt. The rebuild went swimmingly. The team hit on some blue-chippers and they got a little lucky with some overachievers. The product, in 2016, was a juggernaut from the very beginning. Pick a stat. The Cubs were awesome at it. Ballclubs don’t get more complete than this.

So there’s nothing in-depth that has to be studied in order to help us figure out how the Cubs reached the World Series. They’re a super-good club, made up of super-good players. They’ve been better than each of their opponents. There weren’t any tricks. This is actually going to be a fun matchup, the Cubs and the Indians, because the Indians got here by taking advantage of what the playoffs allow them to do with a pitching staff. The Indians advanced because of what they can do in October. The Cubs advanced because of what they’ve been doing for seven months. They’ve wound up tied for the highest runs per game among playoff teams. The defense has sparkled, and the pitching’s been mostly terrific. Life for Joe Maddon has been pretty easy.

There’s a mounting fear of the Cubs. And, had they lost, the consolation would’ve gone something like this: They’re not going away. They might make the next eight World Series. No organization currently finds itself in a better place. Anthony Rizzo‘s under control another five years. Same with Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez, and Jon Lester, and Kyle Schwarber. There are four more years of Kyle Hendricks. There are six more years of Willson Contreras. And so on. The Cubs are overflowing, to such an extent that it hardly even matters that Jason Heyward’s been a total bust. Think about next year’s NLCS. Who do you picture playing? It’s the Cubs and somebody else, right? Of course it is.

That has to be a good thought for Cubs fans. I can’t even relate to how satisfied they must feel about things. But there’s danger in thinking too much about the long view, because you just can’t take anything for granted. Not when you’re considering what could take place a year or three down the line. Things fall apart. Things go awry. I don’t know if the Cubs will be the best team in baseball again next year, or in 2020, or through 2020. The only thing to really know about these Cubs is that these Cubs are the best. The organization might never be better than it is right now, today. So it’s important that they’ve seized this opportunity. In so many cases, baseball isn’t fair, so, blossoming dynasty or no, the Cubs needed a pennant. This is something that can’t be revoked, and there’s one more series left to win.

It’s interesting to think about the history. You can’t not think about the history, even though 1945 and 1908 don’t mean anything to a first baseman born in 1989, or to a shortstop born in 1994. One of the biggest parts of the Cubs’ identity has been misery, but had they lost, this would’ve been new. I know about the recent playoff disappointments. I know about the less-recent playoff disappointments. But the Cubs just finished with the best record in baseball. They hadn’t actually done that since their last pennant. Whenever the Cubs have lost since, they’ve at least lost without having been the clear favorite. Falling short this year would’ve been something different to stomach. Instead, they’ve earned the chance to play for whatever it is the playoffs actually crown.

I know what it is to not get there. I know that the 2001 Mariners were one of the best teams in history. I know that’s supposed to be satisfying on its own. But those Mariners lost in the LCS. They didn’t even get to lose the World Series. I don’t care how much you try to think rationally; it’s almost impossible to mentally feel good about a season like that. The playoffs are the point. Winning for as long as you can is the point, and the Cubs can now try to win last, after already winning the most. The Cubs can win everything, and they’re the most deserving.

Moving forward, the Cubs are better than the Indians. I don’t know how much that’ll matter on the field — it is still the playoffs. Someone has to come away devastated, and if it’s the Cubs, I’m sure we’ll be writing even more about how Terry Francona squeezed every last drop out of his bullpen. But if it’s the Indians, then this’ll be easy. The Indians would’ve lost because they’re worse. It’s the same reason the Dodgers lost, and the same reason the Giants lost. It’s the same reason so many teams in the regular season lost. I don’t know how interesting it is when the obvious best team is the champion. But it has to happen at least some of the time, and now the Cubs are World Series favorites. I don’t mean the Cubs have higher World Series odds than anybody else. I mean their World Series odds are over 50%. The entire national conversation about the Cubs might be on the verge of changing forever. And in at least one sense, it already has. In that regard, you could say something’s been lost. Chicago would tell you that something’s been won.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

I feel like this Jeff post has a much higher (italicized words)/(words) ratio than most Jeff posts.

Zach Walters Appreciation Guild
7 years ago
Reply to  UdUpLaYeR

A remarkable amount of italics, yet it still only clocks in at 0.2 Cistullis.