Halloween Tuesday, 31 October:
One thing is for certain. There is nothing spooky about this day as far as Cub fans go; indeed any ominous portents are strictly the business of the last two teams standing.
Now, many might inquire exactly why this last gasp of 2017 baseball is important to watchers of Cub baseball. With only two games left, and that’s if the Dodgers prevail tonight (they should) it would seem that time to bring on the offseason is here.
Not so fast.
This series, which is not only excellent, but almost a tutorial of what teams need to strive for, is important for anyone who wants their franchise to improve. Instead of ‘rooting for your guys’ through thick and thin, people should see what changes need to be made.
For Cub fans this is new territory, and the media is no help. Just a few short seasons ago fans -and many media types- circled the wagons around Wellington Castillo as an ‘untouchable’ core player. Fortunately the team saw him for what he was, a ham handed catcher (41 career passed balls) with a little pop in his bat who couldn’t frame a pitch if his life counted on it.
You’re not going to attract the Jon Lester’s of the world if you offer that as a backstop.
The point being, really good baseball is on display, and if one doesn’t watch it you won’t know what the team needs to do to beat these teams. The Cubs made it to the NLCS on guts and heart, not because they were that good.
They weren’t. Basically a better than average club with a few spectacular tricks up it’s sleeve.
Houston won the slugfest, 13-12. Key?
They only struck out 6 times while scoring 13 runs on 14 hits. Of the 14 hits they had 3 doubles and 5 home runs. That leaves 6 measly singles, and two of those scored.
Of their 5 walks, George Springer had three of them and he scored twice. What this all means is that they wasted almost none of their offensive output. Compare that to the Cubs, who left the bases loaded four times in the postseason.
Conclusion: Houston has a balanced lineup that makes contact and doesn’t strike out. They were able to survive a weak bullpen with a benched closer because of it.
The Cubs? You remember Javier Baez swinging and missing at pitches head high. Have you seen this ONCE? The answer is, of course, no.
This means that Baez, in spite of his strengths, is expendable. Using this logic, which is inescapable, so, too is most of the team. Kris Bryant showed why he has to make an adjustment to become a great player as opposed to the very good one he currently is.
Anthony Rizzo showed his vulnerability to plus stuff down and in, and his lack of bat speed is an issue at this level of play. And these are the two best position players on the team.
Nobody else started a catcher as erratic as Willson Contreras, who at the end of the day was a modest offensive success (.276, 21 homers, .855 OPS) with subpar defensive numbers (13 errors, 7 passed balls, .985 fielding percentage) and nowhere near the miracle man he’s made out to be.
Not comparing him to chopped liver. He’s got an impressive skill set. But is he a championship caliber catcher? The Cubs played better with Alex Avila and Rene Rivera behind the plate down the stretch; you make the call.
The point to all this is it isn’t about individual star players. The team won in 2016 because of superb pitching, terrific defense, a late season addition at closer, and a lot of breaks.
Last season they showed the weaknesses of a bunch of prospects who, although undeniably talented, didn’t particularly compliment each other. This needs to change, as anyone who watches the series, now knows.
Change is good. Embrace it, because it’s coming…