It’s been a while since I did a listicle, so I figured an off-day during which we plan to migrate the site to a host that doesn’t suck offered the perfect opportunity for an easy puff piece. Besides, it’s fun to drop stuff like this because there are inevitably going to be several more items I left of that we can discuss in the comments or various other media.
Let’s just get right to it, shall we?
No one expects this dude to hit a homer and steal home in the same game again, like ever, but picking up a speed/defense guy for the postseason is an annual Cubs move. Only this time, they got a name-brand speedster who’s known for his elite-level glove in center. David Ross hasn’t exactly been adept at deploying his subs this season, but Hamilton gives him a little more leeway because he’s only a liability at the plate.
When you get to the postseason and each run — hell, each play — matters that much more, incremental improvements can make all the difference. Provided Hamilton is used the right way, he could give the Cubs a slight edge.
Kris Bryant’s health
When healthy, Bryant is one of the best players in the game. Despite what way too many fans apparently believe about his performance, injuries are the only thing standing between him and talk of being a future Hall of Fame inductee. Those injuries obviously can’t be dismissed and they tanked Bryant’s 2020 season, but he looked pretty good over the last two games.
Excellent results aside, the real difference was that Bryant’s swing looked much better over the weekend than it had in the previous two months. He never really got his timing right and wasn’t able to settle in, hence swinging through all those hittable pitches. But if he’s right, which the eye test says is the case, the Cubs have a far more potent and consistent offense.
As much as anything else, the Cubs’ defensive superiority led them to the 2016 World Series. They didn’t give teams extra chances and they made all the plays they had to, plus a few they didn’t, giving opponents almost zero margin for error. That hasn’t been the case this season, though the Cubs ranked fifth in DRS (26), UZR (10.5), and FanGraphs’ Def rating (15.5). Interestingly enough, their 5.2 UZR/150 was actually third in MLB.
Even if you don’t know exactly what all of those things mean, you can probably discern that the Cubs have a very good defense. They’ll need that more than ever when they’re playing in series with no rest between games and a starting rotation that tends to give up a lot of contact.
That leads us right into the next factor, which is the relief corps’ ability to hold leads even when higher-leverage pitchers are unavailable. The first round shouldn’t be much of an issue, but the possibility of playing five or seven straight games offers potential for serious bullpen taxation. That’s why it was so important for Ross to get his ‘pen figured out earlier in the season.
Once viewed as a glaring weakness, the Cubs buttoned things up down the stretch and had an NL-best 2.96 ERA and 3.48 FIP in September. Craig Kimbrel was a huge part of that success and will be called upon to shut down opposing lineups in October. He appeared in eight September games, allowing zero total runs on just three hits. He struck out 13 batters and walked zero — not a typo — over 7.1 innings.
In a really wild statistical anomaly, Kimbrel had a -0.35 FIP this month.
Having the old Kimbrel back will be huge with Jeremy Jeffress still outperforming his peripherals like crazy and Rowan Wick out for the playoffs. The Cubs are also going to have to lean heavily on Jason Adam and Ryan Tepera, with a little help from Andrew “Sheriff” Chafin. There’s even the possibility that flame-throwing lefty Brailyn Marquez could be an option if things get really dire.
As we saw this past weekend, good things usually happen when the Cubs are slugging. Unless they suddenly start hitting for a high average in the playoffs, it’s going to be really important to make every hit count. Bashing homers means boosting your own confidence while stealing some from your opponents, something the Cubs didn’t do often enough. With just 74 dingers in 60 games, they ranked ninth in the NL and 17th in MLB.
Nine of those homers came in their last three games, though, and they seem to hit them in bunches when everyone gets rolling. Now would be a nice time to feast.
Hey, they can’t all be quantifiable. Whether it’s a gold thong or Matt Szczur’s bat, sometimes everyday items are imbued with a special power that’s very real even when it’s just a placebo. Anthony Rizzo broke out earlier in the season when he started rocking a pair of gold chains, then he got Bryant to bust loose with jewelry he’d borrowed from quality assurance coach Mike Napoli.
Just in case you’re looking for a little inexpensive playoff magic of your own, these Cuban link necklaces come in various colors and sizes. My son was wearing a gold one and black one when he hit his first homer the other day, so I speak from experience when I say they work.
So there you have it, the definitive list of keys to a deep Cubs playoff run. As always, feel free to add your own factors in the comments below.