NLDS Tale Of The Tape: Chicago Cubs Vs San Francisco Giants
- OffenseThe Cubs scored the third-most runs in MLB this year, averaging 5.0 runs per game. They also had the third-highest OPS (.772) in the sport as well. Chicago’s lineup is productive from top to bottom, and it’s led by probable National League Most Valuable Players Kris Bryant (.292 average, 39 home runs, 102 RBI, .939 OPS). Throw in Anthony Rizzo (.292 average, 32 HRs, 109 RBI, .928 OPS), and you have two of the top hitters in the league right in the middle of the order. Chicago will score runs on any team they face in the postseason. The Cubs suffered just six shutout losses in 2016, and Chicago arguably has six hitters in its lineup that could start for any other team in the NL. The only true weakness is Jason Heyward (.631 OPS), but before this season, he had a career OPS near .800 so perhaps Heyward is due to bust out of his year-long slump.On paper, the San Francisco lineup is mediocre at best, despite the presence of some famous names (Hunter Pence, Buster Posey). Overall, the Giants scored just 4.4 runs per game in 2016, which was below the league average of 4.5 runs. The team OPS (.728) was 20th in MLB this year, also below average. S.F. was shutout 13 times this year. Yet as we have seen too many times now in October, the Giants usually find some scrub to show up big time for them. In 2010, it was Cody Ross. In 2012, it was Marco Scutaro. In 2014, it was Travis Ishikawa. In Wednesday’s game in New York, it was Conor Gillaspie. These aren’t good players, but these were guys that made a difference when it mattered. No matter what the offense looks like on the stat sheet, San Francisco often finds a way to win with the minimal talent they have.
- PitchingThe Cubs led the majors in overall team ERA (3.15) and starting rotation ERA (2.96). The relievers were solid, with a 3.56 ERA and a 22-19 record. Chicago blew only 15 saves this year, which was the fourth-best mark in the major leagues. The team is strong with four starters that can all pitch deep into games in a playoff series, and the bullpen is stacked with quality arms, ending with Aroldis Chapman. If you don’t get the lead off the starters, it’s hard to come back on the Cubs in the late innings. Chicago was 90-4 this year when leading after seven innings.The Giants finished fourth overall in ERA (3.65) among all MLB teams, which is a good number on the surface. That number is augmented by an excellent defense (see below). The starting rotation, which features only two reliable starters (Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto), posted a 3.71 ERA this season, but the relief corps led the majors with 30 blown saves this year. The Giants’ prior postseason runs have been fueled by timely hitting (see above) and an excellent bullpen, but that is not the case for S.F. in 2016. Even if the switch to Sergio Romo closing games makes a difference now, the relief corps still are a huge weakness for this staff since Bumgarner can’t pitch every day.
- DefenseIf the Cubs have an Achilles heel, this is it. Chicago made 101 errors in 2016, which tied for the eighth-worst mark in MLB. The collective fielding percentage (.983) was the sixth-worst number in the majors. However, this didn’t keep the Cubs from excelling at run prevention, since the pitching staff was so good. Chicago still gave up the fewest runs per game (3.4) in the sport this season, and that is a good sign for any team with October aspirations. The Cubs would have turn into great fumblers to see the defense cost them a playoff series.The Giants made the fewest errors in the majors this season (72), and they also posted the highest fielding percentage as well (.988). Usually, the S.F. defense is fundamentally sound, although the outfielders are old. They often misplay balls that better defenders get to; only Pence has a strong arm in right field, as well. Combined with the pitching staff, the Giants do well at run prevention. San Francisco gave up just 3.9 runs per game this season, which was the fourth-best mark in MLB. The defense had a lot to do with that.
- ManagerJoe Madden is the manager that took the Bottom 5 payroll Tampa Bay Rays to multiple postseasons, and that’s a big contrast with Bochy’s inconsistency in San Francisco with the big payroll at his disposal. Madden always has been one of the most respected minds in the game, and it’s clear in just two seasons with the Cubs (and 200 regular-season wins later) that Madden may be the best manager in the game, period. His .535 winning percentage, despite nine seasons with the Rays, is quite telling, even if he’s never won a World Series. Those rings don’t always tell the full story, of course.Bruce Bochy gets a lot of credit for three World Series wins, but despite having a Top 5 payroll at his disposal, he’s failed to get the Giants into the postseason in consecutive years. That’s pretty inexcusable for a manager that some people think should be in the Hall of Fame eventually. Is he only “great” when he gets to the postseason? Bochy’s .505 career winning percentage is barely above average, and even his .517 mark in San Francisco is lackluster with that kind of payroll behind him. Yes, he has the World Series rings, but those almost seem coincidental considering the lack of routine regular-season success.
The Cubs have been the best team all season, other than a brief dip in June when they had a 20-game slump. Otherwise, this team has been on fire. The Giants build their first-half record upon a weak schedule before coming back down to earth in the second half. On paper, Chicago has almost every advantage, and San Francisco had to burn Bumgarner on Wednesday just to get to this point. We’ve seen the Giants pull off three miraculous World Series wins this decade out of nowhere, beating better teams every step of the way somehow. But this is the worst team S.F. has made the playoffs with, by far, and this Chicago team is loaded. Even if Bumgarner wins Game 3 in San Francisco, the Cubs will take this series in four games.