The Cubs aren’t lucky to be here, not after winning 97 games and surviving baseball’s toughest division. Jake Arrieta turned into Bob Gibson, Kyle Schwarber launched that ball out of PNC Park and a mad-scientist manager kept selecting the right answers for a multiple-choice team.
Raise your hand if you saw Joe Maddon trusting Trevor Cahill (7.52 ERA with the Atlanta Braves) in the eighth inning of a postseason game when he signed a minor-league deal this summer.
But the Cubs are probably fortunate to be in this position — hosting their first home playoff game since 2008 and tied up with the St. Louis Cardinals in this National League division series — without Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant doing any damage.
“We’re looking for them,” Maddon said. “That’s 200 ribeyes between the two of them. That’s really important.”
The Cubs can’t play small ball all the way through October. Rizzo and Bryant will have to produce, starting with Monday’s Game 3 at Wrigley Field in what’s become a best-of-three grudge match.
Together, Rizzo and Bryant generated 57 homers, 69 doubles, 200 RBI and 155 walks during the regular season. Combined, the two All-Stars have gone 0-for-21 with eight strikeouts through three postseason games.
“We’re probably out of our zones a little bit,” Maddon said. “We’re probably playing to what they want us to swing at more than we’re swinging at what we want to swing at.
“To me, it’s expansion of zone, and we’re just not adjusting back to what they’re doing yet. That’s it. Also, I think, to a certain extent they’ve been pressing just a little bit.”
Bryant grounded into seven double plays during 151 regular-season games — and has already done that twice during the playoffs. For what it’s worth, the game’s best rookie has been a far more dangerous hitter at Wrigley Field (21 homers, 1.037 OPS) than on the road (five homers, .693 OPS).
“I’ve hit some balls really hard — just at people,” Bryant said. “In the playoffs, it’s definitely more pitcher-oriented. You always see the pitcher duels. But as an individual, that stuff’s all thrown out the door right now. I could care less if I strike out four times, as long as I’m helping the team win in any way possible. Then I’m doing my job — and that’s our mindset right now.”
[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]
Bryant can beat teams in other ways, deflecting a line drive at third base and making a nifty catch during that wild-card victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He can handle all three spots in the outfield and runs the bases as well as anyone on the team.
“I have all the confidence in the world,” Maddon said. “We’re facing good pitching. That’s what happens in the playoffs. You see good pitchers on a daily basis. We just have to make our adjustments.
“I have a lot of faith in these guys. I don’t feel they’re fatigued. I feel they’re ready to roll. They’re definitely in the moment.”
And the Cubs couldn’t play so loose and with such confidence without Rizzo’s MVP-level production at first base, clubhouse DJ spinning and we’re-winning-the-division swagger.
“We have a lot to prove,” Rizzo said. “We haven't proven anything yet. We are young. We have a lot of talent. But we have to go out there and take it.”