By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — If the Cubs aren’t the best team entering postseason — their record says they are — they’re certainly the most talked about. With 103 wins by Chicago in the regular season, the expectations are this team will advance to the World Series for the first time in 71 years, and the oddsmakers have them as the favorites to win it all.
With the ink still wet on a five-year $50-million contract extension that he agreed to last week, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has the the club that’s now the envy of all of the other ownership groups in the game.
Fielding questions Tuesday like a Gold Glove third baseman handling one-hoppers, the 42-year-old Epstein doesn’t get ahead of himself when talking postseason baseball. Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and their front office cohorts are busy dealing with details for the NLDS, which begins Friday night at Wrigley Field with the Cubs hosting the winner of the Mets-Giants wild-card game Wednesday night.
“We go pretty deep in detail,” Epstein said. “We want to make sure we get everything available to our coaches. You never know when it’s one little thing that can change the course of a series, that one little thing one of our people finds that can be applicable to the result.”
Epstein recalled Game 1 of the 1988 World Series in explaining why every little detail is important, referencing Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homer off Dennis Eckersley that gave the Dodgers a pivotal win against the Athletics en route to a title.
“The best scouting (find) of all time is the 3-2 backdoor slider Dennis Eckersley tried to get past Kirk Gibson that he was looking for,” Epstein said. “So it can be one thing on one pitch that wins a series for you. There is a lot of nervous energy. The best way to handle it is throw yourself right into the opponent.”
Epstein admits this time around is different from 2015, when the Cubs got hot and stayed hot from the end of the regular season until getting swept by the Mets in the NLCS.
“There are a handful of plays, bounces and breaks, moments that will define a series,” Epstein said. “In those moments, there are no favorites. There is just competition. That is just the way our guys approach it.”
The addition of Aroldis Chapman in July seems to have been the crowning moment by the front office during the 162-game marathon. Last winter, the Cubs added three top free agents to the mix in John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. Trading for Chapman put the icing on the cake for this already outstanding club moving toward post season.
“Your closer pitches to a much higher percentage of hitters in the postseason than in the regular season,” Epstein said. “With all the off days, he can pitch every game. You are more than likely to use him for more than just three outs. It’s the end of the year and everything is on the line. That certainly played into our trade for Chapman To be able to get a guy who is that dominant and have him on your side in the postseason, that was certainly something we were mindful of for really big situations.”
Content — but not overconfident — would probably best describe Epstein’s mindset with October upon us.
“Everyone is looking forward to Friday,” Epstein said. “We have been through these workouts before. Once we have an opponent, everything will kick in.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.