Why the Cubs Will Win the Wildcard

9/23/2004

The Chicago Cubs will win the National League wildcard because…they have a 300-game winner on the staff? No. Because they have one of the NL’s best team ERAs? No. Because they have a murderers row in the middle of the lineup with four 30+ home run hitters among whom Sammy Sosa has the lowest slugging percentage? No.

The answer is not Mark Prior or Kerry Wood. Nor is it he who has been consistently their best pitcher all year, Carlos Zambrano, or their closer, LaTroy Hawkins, who has put up very good numbers. It’s not because this is the magical year that the supposed curse is finally over. The answer is most definitely not because of their manager!

Those are all reasons why the Cubs will be dangerous if they make the post-season (though the Dusty factor could work against them). But none are the reason why they will get there.

The Cubs will win the NL wildcard race because…the Dodgers and Giants play each other six times in the final 10 days. The last two weekends of the season will pit those bitter west coast rivals against each other. Meanwhile, the Cubs play three against the tanking Mets, four against the back-to-reality Reds and the final three against the we’ve-already-clinched-the-division-and-are-setting-our-postseason-rotation Braves.

Entering Wednesday night’s games on the west coast, the Cubs had moved into a tie with the Giants for the wildcard. The Giants were only 11/2 games behind the Dodgers in the West Division. If either the Dodgers or Giants win four of their six head-to-head meetings, the door is opened wide for the Lovable Losers.

Situation: The Dodgers beat the Giants four times. In which case, the Cubs take a 1 game lead over the Giants without even considering the three games the Giants have to play on the road against those pesky Padres who they are only 5-11 against this season. Nor does it count the 6 or 7 games out of 10 the Cubs should win in that same stretch. Result: Cubs win the wildcard by at least 2 games.

Situation: The Giants beat the Dodgers four times. San Francisco takes a 1/2 game lead in the division—not counting each team’s mid-week series—and the Dodgers fall into a virtual tie with the Cubs for the wildcard. But again, that’s only if the Cubs play .500 ball against inferior opponents. Each game more than five that Chicago wins in their final 10-game stretch is another game they add to their virtual lead in the wildcard race. Result: Cubs win the wildcard by one or two games.

Situation: The Dodgers and Giants split their six games. In this case, the Cubs need only to win the minimum six games they are expected to win in their final 10 to catch or pass the Giants. Result: Cubs win wildcard by one game.

Situation: Either the Dodgers or Giants win five of their six head-to-head meetings. Result: The door is blown wide open for the Cubs and they win the wildcard by at least three games.

In addition to the fact that the Dodgers and Giants play each other six times, don’t forget all that stuff about Zambrano, Maddux, Prior, Wood, Matt Clement, Hawkins, Derrek Lee, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra and Sosa.

What’s that? Houston is still in it, you say? Sure they are. But at 11/2 games behind the Cubs, they aren’t likely to win the 8+ down the stretch necessary to hang with them. San Diego? Florida? Philadelphia? Thanks for playing, but you’re out of it.

Which takes us back to the Cubs, Dodgers and Giants. Two of the three will make it and the third will have all offseason to fume about what went wrong. And since the Dodgers and Giants play each other six times while the Cubs will be the better and/or hungrier team each time they take the field until the regular season ends, the fierceness of that west coast rivalry will be to the Cubs’ benefit. 

But, oh yeah. There’s still that Dusty Baker factor.

Nevermind.