Cubs’ Playoffs Roadmap

As I practice throwing sharpened pencils into the too-low accoustic-tile ceiling in my “office”, my mind wanders into Twilight Zone recesses and I am able, with too little sleep and a little too much caffeine for encouragement, to ponder the possible ways that the Cubs can get into a playoff game.  I recognize the hallucinogenic aspect of this, but it also confirms my belief in these Cubs as a best-of-their-division team in spite of their record.

In 1993, MLB introduced us to wildcard possibilities, which modified the split division format that was initiated in 1969 and is considered the start of the MLB’s modern era.  Expansion of teams allowed for regional alignments.  Then, for last year’s playoffs – and after the new collective bargaining agreement – MLB added a play-in game.  Basically, the play-in concept allows a third-place team to make a run at a five-game series against the best team in the league.  That is – and here’s the kicker – unless that team is from your division.   Herein lies the Cub’s rub.

The Cubs’ opportunity for sliding into the playoffs lies in their division.  They would avoid the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds in the NLDS. All these Cubs have to do is shoulder their way back into the pack. They have some tremendous SP – Edwin Jackson’s amazing performance yesterday turned an already gorgeous evening into something profoundly sublime.  And I don’t overlook some good karma, which came in the way of yesterday’s two-fer: Kris Bryant is physically, legally and financially ($6.7m) settled in; and Wrigley’s new jumbo JumboTron got a crucial preliminary approval from the city’s landmark commission.  Since everything comes in threes, it seems logical that the trifecta would be completed by the Cubs’ ascention to what modern-era baseball calls playoffs.

The Cubs’ schedule appears fortuitous for a shot at the play-in game.  Dale “Send Em'” Sveum’s sort currently stands 9 GB of the play-in game with 72 to play. After this weekend that number will be 70, probably with the same or lower margin for error after the All-Star Break.  After the break, the Cubs head west to open a series at Coors Field with the Rockies on July 19th. Colorado is expected to be back in the swing of things with so many players coming back from injury after the time spent off, and they will be resurgent in their push for a divisional crown. The Cubs then travel to NL West-leading Arizona for a four-game midweek tilt at Chase Field. And the whole shebang ends after a weekend series with the defending-champion Giants. It’s tough to project – with the trade deadline and all – but if I’m Theo, that Jake Arrieta trade could prove particularly well-timed with Baker doing a rehab start Sunday.

The race is now on for the Northsiders and they better start to move if they really wanna be taken seriously. The trick is to stay within the single-digit GB amount of its ten-fold games remaining; for example, 7 GB/70 GR is currently a favorable ratio. Teams with more than 7 GB are in a deficit. This is especially true for the seven teams in baseball that are more than 10 GB of the wild-card play-in game. The Cubs could potentially make the 7 GB with a two-out-of-three, but more certainly if they win the next three games at home. They’ve won five-of-six and are starting to look like a team in contention.  It’s great to be in a position of having three or four very good starting pitchers who’re about to have three guys fighting it out for fifth man. The five hole could be a position battle? That’s what playoff teams have.

Starting pitching is the most important asset in the sport and these Cubs have four All-Stars on their team. The ace is someone who is the best pitcher at the moment and who is on pace to pitch three or four more starts for your team before you’re either going to shoot for the playoffs or rip someone else’s farm system to shreds. These Cubs have recently acquired three of the most coveted prospects on the planet!  The Cubs have to keep Garza for as long as they can and get as many starts out of that arm, not to mention enhancing Garza’s value on the open market and, more importantly, on his FA this winter.  Jake Arrieta could be a spot starter or a long reliever and if Scott Baker comes back and is able to eat innings, this offense can score and win games. These Cubs still need to move on from Soriano, but Valbuena, Rizzo and Castro are legitimate ballplayers. Nate Schierholtz needs get that average back up. The defense looks to be improving steadily, which is setting the bar pretty low because these Cubs the wrong kind of top-notch entertainment in the field.  Short-term horizon: if Garza’s still around through July 28th and the Cubs cut the deficit to five games after the West Coast trip, then they’ll be in good standing.

We’d all a lot of pleasure watching these Cubs after the break if they sweep or take two out of the next three at Wrigley. The Cubs have the rotation of Vilanueva, Garza and Wood heading into the weekend opposite Joe Kelly who just turned 25 and Lynn plus Wainwright. The Colorado Rockies travel to Dodger Stadium and the Reds and Pirates play two NL East teams that stand in front of these Cubs. Matt Garza will open the series on July 19th and from then on the Cubs have 16 games in 16 days.