The Cubs won 103* games this season.
Top Play: The Cubs’ ninth inning made your humble author laugh out loud with a variety of emotions, the least of which being pity for the lowly Reds, who never figured out the 2016 Cubs (but who can blame them). Rafael Iglesias got two quick outs to begin the inning, but he walked outfield replacement Albert Almora, Jr., and gave up a single to infield replacement Munenori Kawasaki before squaring off against other outfield replacement Matt Szczur. Szczur fought Iglesias to a full count, the regular season down to its last strike, but he managed to chop Iglesias’s 3-2 offering just inside the first-base line for a hustle double. Almora scored easily, and Kawasaki raced around third and beat a limp throw from the right fielder, sliding into home with his helmet cocked to the side, his do-rag exposed, giving the Cubs a 5-4 lead (.690). Nice!
Miguel Montero wasted no time, taking Iglesias 383-feet deep to right, taking the tension that had built throughout the close game and stomping on it before punting it clear out of Great American Ballpark. It turned into a laugher—the kind of game that stirred the above feelings in me and my roommate, a game-length joke (at the Reds’ expense) punctuating the Cubs’ best season in decades.
Bottom Play: In the Cubs’ half of the first, the team loaded the bases with one out. Dexter Fowler singled, Kris Bryant walked, Anthony Rizzo flied out, and Ben Zobrist also walked. Reds’ starter Robert Stephenson was on his heels, and Addison Russell, like a young Jim Hawkins, sought to cap his bildungsroman of a season by bringing home the coveted treasure of a go-ahead hit. Russell topped a 1-0 pitch to third base, and the Reds turned an around-the-horn double play to end the Cubs’ threat (-.145).
Key Moment: The play most negatively affecting the Cubs’ chances occurred in the game’s infancy, the character of the game being that of the Cubs attempting to claw back with their Spring Training lineup in the game. The catalytic play, then, also came early. Hendricks fell behind 3-1 to Eugenio Suarez before walking in a run, and allowing a sharp single to Tucker Barnhart.
Kyle Hendricks, with his major-league ERA title all but secured going into his final start, looked to tally his 16th win and maintain a sub-2.00 ERA. Unfortunately, the righty was shaky—singles by Ivan De Jesus, Jr., and Adam Duvall prefaced a Scott Schebler hit by pitch, loading the bases a short half-inning after the Cubs did the same.
Trend to Watch: With the playoffs on the horizon, “trends” are mostly thrown out the window. Players who have slumped in September don’t necessarily slump in October, and those who went on tears don’t necessarily hit .500 with three homers in the Division Series. With those caveats, there are two real trends going into the playoffs that weigh on the Cubs’ NLDS chances against either the Mets or Giants.
The first is player health. Perhaps more than in any other postseason in recent memory, injuries and health factor greatly into the forthcoming National League playoffs. The Dodgers, Mets, and Nationals have been ravaged by torn ligaments, barking bones, and the like: the Dodgers’ rotation is finally somewhat healthy, following Clayton Kershaw’s ominous months on the disabled list; the Mets’ starters fare even worse, with Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz all playoff absentees; and the Nats now face a postseason sans their great catcher, Wilson Ramos, who suffered a torn ACL on September 26. Washington also must determine the fitness of their two best hitters, Bryce Harper (thumb) and Daniel Murphy (ass… er, I mean his butt is injured), who have had bouts their own injuries recently.
As for the Cubs, they’re sitting relatively pretty. Jorge Soler started on Sunday, and Chris Coghlan played parts of both weekend games. Together, they were the primary injury concerns of the club, and the prospect of Albert Almora, Jr., or Matt Szczur being on the NLDS roster hinged partly on those players’ health. With them at or near 100%, it looks like the Cubs will go in as the Fully Operational Battlestation (TM) that they’ve sported all year, minus Kyle Schwarber.
The second trend is the poor performances of the Cubs’ NLDS starters—Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta—in their final regular season starts. Arrieta’s mechanics are still messy, and Hendricks’s velocity looked a tick below its regular mark on Sunday. Lester’s start on Saturday is less of a concern, with his considerable postseason experience and veteran wiliness on his side. Luckily, the Cubs will face either a decimated Mets rotation or a somewhat underwhelming Giants staff in the NLDS. If Arrieta can’t find his rhythm, or if Hendricks is chucking fastballs at 86 MPH… well, at least the Cubs can hit.
Coming Next: The playoffs, baby. The NLDS starts Friday, and the Cubs will face the winner of the Mets-Giants Wild Card Game on Wednesday. BP Wrigleyville will have comprehensive coverage of the series, and the whole of the Cubs’ playoff run, right here, replete with game previews, recaps, and State of the Series updates. A season retrospective is coming tomorrow from Jared Wyllys.
Look, I’m not saying, I’m just saying… the Cubs have made the postseason in both years of BP Wrigleyville’s existence. And we all know that correlation equals causation in every case, so you’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure to write for you and for Wrigleyville the past two years, I anticipate quite a few more victory recaps just like this one. Cheers to a damn fine 2016, and to (hopefully) an even finer World Series run from our beloved Cubs.
*And a half!
Lead photo courtesy David Kohl—USA Today Sports