Lest you think I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, the Cubs’ current six-game winning streak and 4x-game lead in the N.L. Central has me thinking thoughts of October. Of course, lots can happen in the four and a half weeks (wow! that’s it?) remaining in the 2018 season, but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume the Cubs have wrapped up the N.L. Central title and also the best record in the league, so they’d face the wild-card game winner in the division series.
There are seven teams competing for the other two division titles and two wild-card spots. Four of them will get in, three will stay home. Since at this writing the N.L. East and West are still up for grabs, here’s a quick look at all seven.
Playing a postseason series in Chase Field terrifies me, or maybe that’s just bad memories of the 2007 NLDS against the D-backs.
This year’s D-backs have solid pitching to go along with their offense led by Paul Goldschmidt and David Peralta. Patrick Corbin has been kind of the missing link Arizona hs needed to solidify their rotation.
These teams have a series yet to play in the regular season, September 17-18-19 in Arizona, and those games will be important for both teams. Not including the 2007 NLDS, the Cubs are 29-45 all-time in Phoenix, although they’re 5-2 there since 2016.
The Braves, along with the Phillies, appear to have arrived perhaps a year early to the postseason party. They’re one of the youngest teams in baseball, and some of those young players, including Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, are among the top players in the game. Freddie Freeman is an MVP candidate, and they’ve gotten solid pitching up and down their rotation.
The Cubs split a pair of games with the Braves at Wrigley in April in what were perhaps the most miserable conditions I’ve ever seen games played in, then lost a rainout-makeup game against them May 14. The teams again split a pair in Atlanta in May, and had another rainout that will be made up this Thursday.
The Braves are a team that’s played better on the road than at home. Whether this would matter in the postseason remains to be seen.
The Rockies worry me, for some reason. The Cubs and Rockies haven’t met since early May, and both teams have made changes in their rosters since then. The Cubs took two of three at Wrigley and lost two of three at Coors Field, so there’s no real advantage there for either team. At the moment, the Rockies, like the Cardinals, have a better record on the road than at home.
The Rox have been a very streaky team. They were in first place for much of May, then lost 12 of 16 to fall four games behind. Currently, they have won 11 of their last 16. Whether this team can qualify for the postseason probably depends on what kind of streak they’re on in late September.
The Dodgers just don’t seem to have the mojo they had in 2017, when they raced out to a 91-36 start before losing 16 of 17, including 11 in a row. In fact, since that 91-36 start, the Dodgers are just 83-83, and have had to survive multiple injuries both to their hitters and to their pitching staff, including formerly lights-out closer Kenley Jansen. Jansen has a heart condition that could require surgery in the offseason, and since he spent some time on the DL he’s given up four home runs in his last three outings.
If I had to guess right now, I’d say the Cubs’ 2016 and 2017 NLCS opponent is going to be watching the postseason at home this year.
The Brewers have had a knack of winning late. They have eight walkoff wins this year, and have gotten excellent offensive production, both from holdovers and the seemingly endless parade of infielders they’ve acquired by trade.
They’re cold of late, going 10-12 in August, and their bullpen is a mess. Former closer Corey Knebel was sent to the minor leagues after posting a 7.80 ERA in 15 appearances since the All-Star break.
The Cubs are 9-4 against the Brewers this year, but much of that was posted in April in much different conditions (weatherwise, especially). The Brewers took two of three from the Cubs a couple of weeks ago in Wrigley. Most of the Brewers have little playoff experience, though they did get some World Series experience when they traded for Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, who have played in two WS for the Royals.
Now this would be cool, if weird: A Game 1 NLDS matchup between these two teams featuring Cole Hamels vs. Jake Arrieta.
Could happen, but likely won’t; even if Hamels is given the Game 1 start for the Cubs, Aaron Nola probably starts against him. Nola is a Cy Young candidate having a great season. The Phillies’ signing of Arrieta has paid off in getting a veteran with postseason experience to help out a young team.
The Phillies, too, have faded of late, and have fallen out of first place, losing 10 of their last 15. This might be helpful to the Cubs as they head to Philadelphia this weekend. The Cubs took two of three from the Phillies at Wrigley, including Jason Heyward’s walkoff grand slam:
That’s always worth watching again.
The Cardinals have completely turned things around under interim manager Mike Shildt; they are 26-12 under Shildt and have gone from also-ran to currently leading the wild-card race.
They have done this mostly with offense under Shildt. They’re second in the N.L. in runs scored in those 38 games, fifth in runs allowed. They’ve still had some bullpen meltdowns, but their rotation finally looks a bit more solid than it had previously. Jack Flaherty, in particular, has been great: 2.18 ERA over his last eight starts.
The Cubs are 7-9 against the Cardinals this year, though they are 4-3 against them since the All-Star break. The Cardinals have been better on the road than at home, so not having home field might work in their favor. The Cubs have the institutional memory of winning the division series against them in 2015.
So, who would I pick out of all these teams? I think I’d most like to see the Cubs play the Brewers. I think the Cubs’ postseason experience would shine through and the Brewers would likely have to deal with a significant number of Cubs fans at Miller Park.
But perhaps you feel differently. Who would be your preferred first-round opponent for the Cubs in the 2018 postseason?
Which team would you prefer as the Cubs’ first-round postseason opponent?
This poll is closed
Los Angeles Dodgers
St. Louis Cardinals