This piece, written by BP Wrigleyville’s Zack Moser, forms part of our in-house coverage of the Cubs in the playoffs, “Second City October.” For more on Game Two, read Nate Greabe’s recap. Additional playoff coverage will be found on BP Wrigleyville throughout the week.
“He shall from time to time give to the Cubs Faithful information to the State of the Series and recommend to their consideration such reactions as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, in the occasion of Relief Pitcher Home Runs, convene both bandwagon fans and diehards, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the game of the Series, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive insults from Cardinals fans and promptly return them; he shall take care that the Curse talk be faithfully executed (like, you know, literally), and shall commission all the gripes and celebrations of the Cubs 2016 playoff run.””
It is with the power vested in me that I, dutiful author of the BP Wrigleyville vanguard, address you, the Cubs fan, concerning the State of the Series. The Cubs are up 2-0 on the Giants, and head back to San Francisco for Monday’s Game Three. They need one victory in three games to move onto the NLCS. Let’s see how they got there.
The Javy Baez Show
The undisputed star of the first two games has been Javier Baez. With Friday night’s moonshot/basket scraper home run, some great defensive play, and with two-thirds of the Cubs’ hits, he claimed the crown of game one hero. Saturday, with another hit, a walk, and a key run scored—plus some more noteworthy baserunning—Baez cemented his status as the early series catalyst. We’ve witnessed Baez come up in key moments before (his Mother’s Day walk-off homer was one of the season’s highlights, and last NLDS’s home run off of John Lackey in Game Four spurred the Cubs onward), so it should be no surprise that he has thrived, but it’s exhilarating to watch his national coming out party.
Baez’s 2015 was heartbreaking, disappointing, and difficult: between his sister’s death, intermittent playing time, and a high strikeout rate, the infielder would have been forgiven if his frustrations boiled over. Rather than flame out, however, Baez seized playing time this season with his impeccable defense, sparkplug baserunning, and dwindling K-rate. A brushback pitch late in Saturday’s game indicated the Giants’ inability to contain the player with the MLB tattoo on his neck; the guy’s just too damn electric, and he’ll beat you in any, or every, facet of the game.
The Second City Players
Chicago is famous for its improv scene. Rattling off a list of famous Chicago comedians is akin to naming a late-twentieth century Comedy Hall of Fame, with Saturday Night Live, late-night talk shows, sitcoms, and stage shows riddled with Second City and Improv Olympic vets. It’s no surprise, then, that the Cubs themselves have improvised a bit in the batter’s box with their best two hitters’ material bombing.
Look, I would be a bald-faced (er, mustachioed) liar if I told you I didn’t have anxieties, both general and specific, regarding the Cubs in the playoffs. Primary among the nameable fears were two things: Jake Arrieta being bad, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant getting cold. The jury is out on the former until Monday, but Rizzo and Bryant have stayed relatively silent in the first two games of the series.
Don’t panic, as Douglas Adams would say. Rizzo has nary a hit, and Bryant has one in each game, but the offense is far from dead, despite Friday’s pitchers duel. The Cubs’ lineup is a foolproof as an MLB lineup can be: it’s thick with great hitters, there’s a mix of contact and power, and “small ball” is not a foreign language. Baez may have chewed the scenery in his performances—come on, Javy, don’t you think the game-winning home run is a little much? Nah, me neither—but the Cubs’ secondary players have carried the tune to pick up where their two MVP candidates have fallen flat.
Jason Heyward swatted a loud double to kickoff the scoring early in Saturday’s game. Willson Contreras added two knocks of his own while matching the youthful joy of Baez. Kyle Hendricks— before exiting the game with a bruised forearm, the result of an Angel Pagan liner back through the box—added a bloop single, scoring two runners, including the game-winning run. Travis Wood, bless his grizzled Southern heart, rocketed a long homer into the left-center field bleachers, reminiscent of another Wood with a memorable playoff home run. It was, according to those who combed Baseball Reference, the first relief pitcher home run in the postseason in 92 years.
The Cubs are a great team because they have two of the best hitters in the majors. The Cubs are one of the best teams of the twenty-first century because of their cast of secondary players, a host of talents good at the occasional one-liner and precocious young scene-stealers destined for stardom.
Ever since the end of the NL Wild Card game, Monday’s game has been the one to circle on your calendar. Madison Bumgarner, he of the legendary postseason theatrics and Wild Card shutout, squares off in San Francisco against Jake Arrieta, 2015’s best pitcher with more to prove than you might think. Neither club has walloped the ball this series; the Giants have managed a meek three runs in two games, and the Cubs’ aforementioned boppers are scrambling to find hits. With a cool San Francisco evening, two of the league’s best pitchers, and a high intensity elimination game atmosphere, Monday night is shaping up to look much like Friday’s dual pitching gem.
The Cubs likely won’t light up Bumgarner. To do so would be to tug at the fabric of the universe a smidge too tautly, perhaps stretching it out and creating some unsightly holes. But if Arrieta regains his late-2015 form, or the heights he’s reached even earlier this season, the Cubs will have more than a fighting chance. As Game Two unfolded, the MLB Network cameras picked up Madison Bumgarner’s droopy face. If the Cubs send the Giants home Monday night with naught, you might look into some good tattoo artists willing to forever etch into your skin the sadness of one Madison Kyle Bumgarner.
I am loath to close. In a World Series, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a playoff run founded on three essential series victories. After all, are we, Cubs fans, not entitled to the freedom from want that even year B.S. and devil magic have granted our friends? That is no vision of a distant season. This team is a definite basis for a championship attainable in our own time and generation.
Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports