Welcome to the National League Division Series edition of Zack’s Sack, the BP Wrigleyville mailbag! The Cubs square off versus the Nationals in Washington on Friday, and the two teams’ starting pitching situations are in surprising flux. Many have tabbed the Cubs as the underdogs, despite their status as the reigning World Series champions and their robust second-half record and offensive output. It’s a great matchup among a quartet of great Division Series matchups.
As such, we have a few fun questions for this edition of the Sack, and I’ll dive right in.
“How many Mike Fontenot’s can fit into one Zack Sack?” — @thetweethaver, haver of tweets
The Sack is a state of mind, Guy. But, were there a corporeal embodiment of the Sack, 1.618 Fontenots would fit.
“Please characterize the Cubs playoff rotation in their ideal representative ska band” — @DUDLAWSON, who is thoughtfully eschewing his sick Montreal Expos hat for the duration of this series
Kyle Hendricks is a first-wave ska musician, probably Desmond Dekker. He exudes a classic style that some think won’t work in today’s environment, but which never fails to disappoint. Timeless.
Jon Lester is the Specials. Durable and dependable, the Specials were the face of the Two Tone ska movement in the late-’70s and early-’80s in the U.K. Lester’s pitch mix reflects the diverse musical and demographic nature of the band.
José Quintana is also a Two Tone band, but he’s the more obscure Selecter. The Selecter were, and are, underrated, but were similarly exceptional to the Specials. Quintana has been continuously underrated throughout his career, and deserves more recognition.
Jake Arrieta is a third-wave, Southern California ska band. He hasn’t aged as well as we had hoped, but his 2015 hits—or, no-hits—reflect the early success of No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. He might not be able to replicate it, but we’ll remember that season fondly.
John Lackey is Sublime.
“Does the presence of a trumpet automatically make a song ska?”– @GregLicked, wise arbiter of ska music
Yes. Miles Davis? Ska. Red Hot Chili Peppers? Ska. Chance the Rapper? Ska.
“in which ballot will Kyle Hendricks make the hall of fame” — @kranzman, reasonable Kyle Hendricks fan
Hendricks does have the opportunity to be the longest-tenured good Cubs pitcher since Carlos Zambrano, but his Hall chances are extremely slim. He’s been worth about three wins a year, on average, since his debut, and his career ERA is under three, but Hendricks would have to put up a few more Cy-worthy seasons to come close to landing himself on the ballot.
“In what other sport would the Cubs be most likely to make the playoffs/championship match?” — @marymcraig, Baseball Prospectus and BP Wrigleyville contributor
“who played better this year, jon gray in chase or greinke vs the rocks at home p.s. I already know the answer” — @LLW902, reprehensible Dodgers and Diamondbacks fan
Not gonna look up the actual numbers here, but Tuesday night proved that the Diamondbacks’ offense is relentless. Sorry Jon.
“What is your favorite NLDS moment in Cubs history?” — @GregLicked
The Cubs have a surprising surplus of great NLDS moments for a franchise that has only made seven appearances, with three wins and three losses (all by sweep!) so far. One can of course dismiss the losses to the Braves in ‘98, Diamondbacks in ‘07, and Dodgers in ‘08, and sift through the many great moments in the victories over the Braves in ‘03, Cardinals in ‘15, and Giants in ‘16.
There’s the Mark Prior complete game in Game Three of the 2003 NLDS, the Cubs’ first home playoff victory since Game Two of the 1989 NLCS. Prior and Kerry Wood shoved that postseason, and the Cubs (and Dusty Baker) rode their arms until they broke down. The real highlights of that postseason were in the NLCS of course, with Sammy Sosa and Aramis Ramirez launching iconic home runs.
Jorge Soler’s overall performance in the 2015 NLDS versus St. Louis might take the crown here. It was Soler’s brightest moment in his short, disappointing tenure in Chicago, but he mashed a pair of homers and generally made Cardinals pitchers cry. His two-run shot in the second inning of Game Two, putting the Cubs ahead 5-1, was an emotional high. The Cubs’ myriad homers that series were all highlights, really: Kyle Schwarber’s moonshot onto the top of the video board in right stands out, but the Cubs’ six dingers in Game Three are hard to top.
Of course, the Cubs topped those moments the very next year in a series that’s lost in the World Series mix. Squaring off with the Giants’ Even Year B.S. made for a tall order, and the series was significantly more tense than the 2015 Cardinals series, despite the Cubs being the best team throughout the regular season. Once again, home runs feature heavily, with Jake Arrieta and Travis Wood’s pitcher home runs standing out. Javier Baez’s full-count solo shot late in Game One, as Jon Lester twirled a shutout, was a comical wall-scraper.
But the come-from-behind rally in the ninth inning of Game Four, turning a 5-2 deficit into a 6-5 victory via a parade of hits is the standout here. I’m picking Willson Contreras’s game-tying single for its distilled joy and ferocity.
“Other than Davis, who out of the pen do you expect to see the most?” — @BrennanCasey11, Tom Petty superfan (RIP)
Like the rotation, the Cubs’ bullpen is shifting right now. Koji Uehara has been unavailable for a full month now, and Joe Maddon still doesn’t trust Hector Rondon despite the one-time closer’s strong performance this season.
While Rondon’s walk rate ballooned to 8.4 percent this year, he struck out the highest percentage of hitters (29.1) in his career. From August 27th to the end of the season, Rondon faced 31 hitters and struck out 12, walking zero and giving up just four hits. Oh, and he didn’t allow a single run, nor did he allow an inherited runner to score. The dude is pitching as well as anyone on the staff, and Rondon should receive some high-leverage innings versus the Nationals’ hitters if he’s healthy.
The other two candidates who might see the rubber most often are Carl Edwards, Jr., and Pedro Strop. Edwards replicated Rondon’s September success, facing 35 hitters from September 10th onward. He walked three, allowed two hits, and didn’t let a run cross the plate. Edwards also struck out 13. Pedro Strop—and stop me if you’ve heard this before—also had a great end of the season, allowing no runs while facing 43 hitters from August 29th to the end of the year. Strop did walk the most hitters, with five, but he also struck out 12 and stranded all inherited runners. Maddon has a trio of exceptional pitchers on which to rely between the starter and closer, and, while I expect Strop and Edwards to garner the most innings besides Wade Davis, I would love to see Rondon get the ball.
Lead photo courtesy Brad Mills—USA Today Sports