CHICAGO — So it’s the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants in the NLDS in a matchup featuring one organization that hasn’t won a World Series in 108 years and one that has three in five seasons. That narrative alone is a juicy one, but this time around, it’s the Cubs who come in as the powerhouse after the Giants limped into the playoffs.
Of course, none of that matters now, as San Francisco has seemingly found its mojo with a 3-0 win over the New York Mets in the wild-card game on Wednesday.
“They [the Giants] were awesome in the first half, had their struggles in the second half, but it seems like they’ve put that behind them,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon.
The Giants had a better win percentage than the Cubs at the All-Star break but tanked in the second half. They gave up their division lead and needed all 162 games to secure a wild-card spot. They struggled at the plate in the second half, ranking 12th in OPS in the National League, but they still made it to the postseason. And yes, they can pitch.
“It looks like they’re coming out of it at the right time for them,” Hoyer said.
The early storylines in the best-of-five series, which begins Friday at Wrigley Field, revolve around the starting pitchers for both teams, highlighted by the return of former Cub Jeff Samardzija. Drafted in 2006, Samardzija played for the Cubs from 2008 to 2014, when he was traded to Oakland for shortstop Addison Russell. Expect a Game 2 matchup between Samardzija and Kyle Hendricks, with Russell manning short behind him.
Then there’s Game 3, likely to feature Jake Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner threw a complete-game shutout in the wild-card win over the Mets on Wednesday. And, of course, he’s done that before in the postseason.
“I’ll tell my grandkids about the 2014 World Series,” Hoyer said. “I’ve never seen a pitching performance like that.”
Bumgarner beat Arrieta 3-2 on Sept. 3, but their first matchup came way back in spring training. The Cubs hit Bumgarner hard in a come-from-behind victory, and the Giants lefty got peeved when he thought Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward were stealing signs from second base. That was also the game Arrieta left with a blister. Both went on to have solid seasons and now will get one more time to face off.
Here’s what else you need to know, including the Game 1 matchup:
The Cubs won four of seven regular-season games against the Giants, but the most recent series featured four one-run games, with the Cubs coming out on top in three of them. They lost two of three in San Francisco back in May, not long after they started the season 25-6.
Jon Lester will likely oppose Johnny Cueto in Game 1 on Friday. Lester was 1-1 with a 4.63 ERA in two starts against the Giants this season, and his last effort in early September was a masterpiece. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, only to see Hunter Pence break it up with a home run. Back in May, Lester gave up five runs in 2 2/3 innings when the teams met in San Francisco. The Cubs were 5-for-25 (.200) off Cueto over seven innings in a 3-2 Cubs win at Wrigley Field, also in September.
This series will feature rest versus momentum, as the Cubs haven’t played meaningful baseball in several weeks. “We earned that,” Jason Heyward said during Cubs practice Wednesday. “We earned that to not have to [have] any gray hairs that you get from 162 [games].”
One thing Heyward is counting on is the Cubs’ relentlessness. In his first year, he was impressed by how his new team never stopped competing.
“This is one of the most coachable teams I’ve been around, as far as guys picking up each other and saying, ‘Hey, we need to make this correction,'” Heyward said. “Then they go make it — immediately. And they take pride in that.”
“Game 162 was a good testament to our season. We could easily have said we’re going to lay it down. We don’t give at-bats away. We don’t give innings away on defense. That’s the name of our game.”
The Cubs will need every ounce of fortitude to beat the Giants and will rely on the best starting staff in baseball to get it done. Then there’s the task of squeaking across enough runs against some battle-tested pitchers, including a former one of their own.
“Our guys are focused but relaxed,” Hoyer said. “That’s a perfect mode to be.”
The pick: The Cubs can outpitch anyone, and with those rested arms, they’ll take the series in four games.