By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Do you want to be the best or the hottest team entering the playoffs? That’s a question that will be answered soon as it pertains to this season.
The 2015 St. Louis Cardinals were the only team in baseball with 100 victories in the regular season. That slight advantage as the most respected team entering the playoffs lasted until Game 2 of the NLDS against the Cubs, who dropped the first game and promptly won the next three to advance to the NLCS, where they were swept by the Mets.
Hot or not, the regular season only provides the home-field edge until the lower-seeded team wins a game on the road. As they open the NLDS on Friday against the Giants after a 103-win regular season, these Cubs know that.
“The best team going in doesn’t always win,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “There are countless moments that change the course of a game or a series. Some of these are not based on skill but rather random moments that come out in your favor. I think every team who wins a World Series can look back at some moment in time that has nothing to do with skill but rather good fortune. That does not mean the team that gets there is lucky. Each team will have to have some breaks along the way in order to be that team standing at the end.”
Cubs catcher Miguel Montero has been on both sides of the best team/luck factor in winning scenarios.
“For the playoffs, it’s whoever gets hot at the right time,” Montero said. “Even if you have a better team by numbers, they can get hot. I remember when the Rockies won 21 out of 22 games in 2007. They came into the postseason very hot. They didn’t stop there (until losing the World Series. Last year, the Mets got pretty hot at the right time, and they did what they did. Hopefully we can keep our momentum going, even though we got a week off.”
The odds of winning for the Cubs don’t go up just because sentiment is on their side. Many intangibles will help determine the winner.
“We are a hungry team,” said outfielder Jason Heyward, who was on the 2015 Cardinals that lost to the Cubs. “Just being here this year confirms what I saw from the outside looking in last season. These guys don’t quit and are never complacent. They don’t settle for any numbers or any amount of wins. They all want to build on what we have done. They all want to be in this moment every season. They all want to play in October, and you see it by the work they put in every day. That is what I will take out of it.”
Having led San Francisco to World Series title in 2010, 2012 and 2014, Giants manager Bruce Bochy knows something about being the hottest team.
“Momentum can play a heavy role,” Bochy said. “We had a lot of struggles getting here. We had to take three from the Dodgers to get in the wild card. That is pretty good momentum. Now we go into the wild-card game, we were feeling pretty good again after what Bumgarner did. I do think it plays a critical role in your team’s success. If they believe, that is all that matters. If they have any doubt or self-doubt, that will creep in to any struggles they may have.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.