It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Cubs have won 10 out of their last 12 games to reach a season-high 26 games over .500.
After all, Joe Maddon’s trademark is for his teams to really hit their stride in late August through the end of the season.
That is what Chicago has done in each of Maddon’s four seasons as manager. In fact, The Cubs are 76-37 combined in August under Maddon. Chicago has played similarly in September as well, its record is 57-28 in the last regular season month of baseball.
So, with a four-game division lead and only 25 games remaining, the playoffs are basically a guarantee for the Cubs this season. Winning the NL Central also seems to be in Chicago’s near-future, barring a late collapse.
With that being said, let’s analyze what the ideal playoff matchups would be for Chicago. With plenty of competition in the NL, there are a wide variety of scenarios for the Cubs. This is especially true for the NLDS.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 30, 2018
Currently, Chicago is four games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers for the best record in the NL. If the Cubs are able to finish atop the National League, they will, of course, play the winner of the Wild Card Game.
Right now, the wild card matchup would be between two NL Central foes, the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. However, it is still too early to count a number of teams out. The Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks are both within two games of the final wild-card spot. The Philadelphia Phillies are also only three and a half games behind.
Since the Rockies and Diamondbacks are both within one game of the NL West lead as well, there is a chance the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers fall back and earn a wild-card spot.
There is honestly a likely chance that the Cubs play any of these teams. With that being said, let’s take a look at the most ideal NLDS matchup for Chicago.
Something about playing a division rival doesn’t sit well with me. Obviously, the Brewers and Cardinals know how to approach Chicago better than any of the other teams previously mentioned because they play each other so often.
It is not as if the Cubs have struggled against either team. Chicago is 9-4 against Milwaukee this season and 7-9 against St. Louis (which is pretty even). But, there are no teams other than these two that have been more motivated to beat the Cubs over the past few seasons.
Something about playing a division rival throws all records out the window and puts more pressure on the Cubs, given that they will be favored. Specifically, playing St. Louis would be concerning.
I’m not saying that Chicago would lose the series. But, the Cardinals have played well against the Cubs this season and they have also been extremely hot lately. Historically, St. Louis is a great playoff team as well.
Roles would be reversed from 2015, in which the wild card-winning Cubs defeated the 100-win Cardinals in the NLDS. St. Louis would be looking for revenge and that’s a scary storyline. I’d say the least ideal team for Chicago to play in the NLDS would be the Cardinals. The Brewers are a close second.
Though the Phillies have a decent shot at making the Wild Card game, there are five other teams ahead of them. So, I won’t go very in depth on them. But, it’s worth noting that Philadelphia was a much better team in the first. The Phillies are three games under .500 since the all-star break and, if anything, they are fading right now. If they bounce back, I still don’t think the Phillies would give the Cubs much trouble in the playoffs.
The most ideal teams for Chicago to play come from the NL West. Though the race is as tight as can be, it’s safe to say that Los Angeles is the best team in the West. If the Dodgers run away with the division, that leaves the Diamondbacks and Rockies as potential NLDS matchups for the Cubs.
Considering how dangerous Colorado’s offense is, they could be a little stingy to Chicago. If the Rockies found a way to win a game at Wrigley Field, they really would have a shot at winning the series. Going to play at Coors Field is never easy for the opposition.
However, the Cubs would still come out on top in the series. Colorado’s offense can undoubtedly keep up with Chicago’s, but its pitching cannot. The Rockies’ team ERA of 4.53 ranks only 13th in the NL and is almost a whole run behind the Cubs’.
Colorado would most likely send out Kyle Freeland to pitch in the Wild Card game. Freeland has been exceptional this season. But, the talent in Colorado’s rotation really drops off after him. Each of the Rockies’ remaining starters have an ERA of 4.11 or worse.
Since Freeland would pitch in the Wild Card Game, he wouldn’t be available until game four or maybe game three (if they are desperate) of the NLDS.
So, Colorado would be the most ideal team for the Cubs to play in the first round of the 2018 playoffs. Arizona has played similar baseball to the Rockies over the years. But, the Diamondbacks have actually pitched very well this season.
Led by a one-two punch of Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin, Arizona actually has the second-best ERA in the NL. We also all know how dangerous the D-Backs’ bats are with Paul Goldschmidt and David Peralta in the lineup.
Arizona would give Chicago more trouble than the Rockies would.
- Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.
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