2016 National League Division Series
San Francisco Giants (87-75) vs Chicago Cubs (103-58)
Game One: Cubs won 1-0
Game Five: (If necessary) Wednesday, Oct. 13: San Francisco at Chicago, TBD (FS1)
The Teams: San Francisco Giants (87-75) vs. Chicago Cubs (103-58)
The franchise with three World Series titles in the last six seasons – all of them in even years – versus the team with the longest drought in Major League Baseball history. The Giants needed a win on the final day of the season to qualify, and then had to travel to New York and beat the Mets, in order to earn this matchup with the wire-to-wire National League leaders. The Cubs punched their ticket almost a month ago and spent September setting up their rotation and resting their key players in anticipation of October.
The Giants had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break – better even than the Cubs. But the wheels fell off in the second half, as the club that went 57-33 in the first half limped to a 30-42 mark in the second half – and needed four wins in their last four games to save both their season and their postseason chances. Their bullpen was an Achilles’ heel all year, blowing 32 save opportunities. However, in the Wild Card game, Madison Bumgarner went all nine shutout innings cementing his reputation as the most fearsome playoff starter on the planet.
The Cubs boast last season’s Cy Young winner (Arrieta), three Cy Young Award candidates (Arrieta, Hendricks, and Lester), last season’s Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant), this season’s likely NL MVP (again, Bryant), and the second smartest manager to have never won a World Series. They were a juggernaut this season, rolling through the National League competition with ease. Their fans believe that this is the year: their 107-year drought between World Series wins is coming to an end. But they need 11 more victories to finish off their seasonal aspirations.
The (Likely) Pitching Matchups
Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44) vs. Johnny Cueto (18-5, 2.79)
Cueto is 2-3, 5.35 lifetime in the postseason, with both wins coming last year for the Royals, one in the World Series. He throws a 4 seam fastball, a sinker and mixes in a changeup, cutter, and slider along with the rare curve.
Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13) vs. Jeff Samardzija (12-11, 3.81)
Hendricks has 8 ⅔ innings of playoff experience, all coming last season, with no record and a 5.35 ERA. He features a sinker and a changeup. He’ll also mix in a four-seam fastball and the occasional curve.
Samardzija has just one postseason inning under his belt; way back in 2008, with the Cubs. He throws seven pitches and features a sinker and 4 seam fastball followed by a cutter and slider. He’ll also show the hitter a splitter and the rare changeup.
Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10) vs. Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74)
Arrieta went 2-1 with a 3.66 ERA in last season’s playoffs. He throws a sinker about 60% of the time along with his slider and curve. He also throws a rare changeup and four-seam fastball.
Bumgarner’s career record in the postseason is 8-3 with a 1.94 ERA. He features a four-seam fastball, a cutter, a curve, change, and a slow curve.
John Lackey (11-8, 3.35) vs. Matt Moore (13-12, 4.08)
Lackey is 8-5, with a 3.11 career ERA in 127 ⅓ postseason innings. He features a four-seam fastball, a slider and a sinker, as well as the occasional curve and changeup.
Moore has made two postseason starts, going seven shutout innings in a winning effort and coughing up eight runs in a loss. He relies heavily on his four-seam fastball and also throws a curveball and a changeup.
The Cubs were the only National League team to break 800 runs scored, barely (808), and boast a powerful lineup powered by first baseman Anthony Rizzo (32 homers) and third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant (39 homers and a league-leading 121 runs scored). Chicago is both deep and versatile, with manager Joe Maddon regularly moving players between positions and up and down the lineup. The Cubs run differential of +252 led major league baseball by more than 60 runs.
By contrast, the Giants scored just 715 runs on the year, relying much more on manufacturing offense and capitalizing on opponent mistakes. First baseman Brandon Belt’s 132 OPS+ led the team. However, franchise cornerstones Buster Posey and Hunter Pence both had down years, with Pence having missed almost 60 games due to injury. Shortstop Brandon Crawford managed to tie a major league record with seven hits in one game, and he also contributed mightily to the Giants overall offensive production.
What To Watch For
The Giants need Cueto to perform well in Game 1 with Bumgarner unavailable until Game 3 because of his Wild Card performance. If the Giants split the first two games in Chicago and go home with the best playoff pitcher alive looming, the Cubs fans will panic. However, if the Cubs take care of business at home and set themselves up to win the series out west, don’t be surprised if Game 4 starter John Lackey earns accolades, given his long track record of postseason success.