WASHINGTON – Wade Davis scanned the clubhouse near the end of spring training and called the Cubs “a crazy talented group,” counting 10 or 12 players among the best in Major League Baseball.
Davis has been as good as advertised, the All-Star closer the Cubs would have for an entire season instead of a rental like Aroldis Chapman, fueling optimism/delusions the defending champs could actually be better than last year’s World Series team.
But all that on-paper talent has translated into a 40-39 record and a high-water mark of four games over .500 (in late May). The Cubs are running a half-game behind a first-place Milwaukee Brewers team with a $56 million Opening Day payroll.
Board member Todd Ricketts – who once told a “Screw you, Matt Harvey!” story at the 2016 Cubs Convention – still called out the Washington Nationals during this week’s White House visit and told Donald Trump: “We’re going to run into these guys in the playoffs. You’ll see them crumble.”
The reality check for the Cubs is that it has become a matter of getting there. But Thursday’s 5-4 ninth-inning comeback victory –and the scattered boos at Nationals Park after another bullpen meltdown – showed how Washington could be this year’s San Francisco Giants.
That would be the team with great starting pitchers, a strong everyday lineup and the nowhere-to-turn bullpen the Cubs exploited in last year’s first-round series. That makes Davis – 16-for-16 in save chances and 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA after finishing off both wins in this four-game series – such a difference-maker if the Cubs get to October.
“I’ve been on teams before where you know their confidence is lacking,” Davis said, “and people don’t necessarily believe this year they’re that good. I don’t think you see that here on any of our guys.
“I think we’ll be there. We know what to do.”
[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
The Nationals (47-32) will have to do something to fix a bullpen with a 4.98 ERA and 13 blown saves or else risk wasting another season of Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer’s brilliance. Not that anyone else around the Cubs would talk trash and back up Ricketts’ prediction.
“I’m not into billboard-material quotes,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We got to worry about our own house right now, in my opinion. We’re one game over .500. That’s exactly where we deserve to be. We haven’t played well enough beyond that.
“(The Nationals) have taken care of business. These guys look great. They’ve run away with the division. They’ve lived up to their potential. And we should be looking up to them right now. They’ve played this season so far the way we should play this season.
“Hopefully, we’ll play that way the rest of the year. But right now, they’re in a much better position than we are.”
Davis – a calming presence in the bullpen and playoff-tested after getting the final out of the 2015 World Series for the Kansas City Royals – doesn’t believe in hangovers or overreactions.
“Baseball’s going to be different every year,” Davis said. “I don’t care how good you are or what you win. (This is) what the flow of the season is – how we’re playing, what we’re executing, the breaks we’re getting or not getting. It’s where we are right now, but we feel we’re in a good spot.
“I think we’ll end up being where we need to be. Everything is like a building block. You get better at certain things. And at some point, you hope you’re right where you want to be and then you take off.”