April 4, 2017
The Cubs' Pitching and Its Skeptics
As the new season dawns, the baseball punditry finds itself a bit in a panic. The demand for baseball content keeps ramping up, but there’s very little groundbreaking analysis for any of the industry’s too-many talking heads to offer up. Rare are the seasons that leave this small a margin for reasonable disagreement. Of the six divisions, there is an overwhelming favorite to win three, and a clear (though not consensus) choice in two more.
The Wild Card system creates more uncertainty, but not necessarily more suspense or more intrigue. We’re starving for a juicy debate, and after waiting all offseason for real games to begin we’re starting to see some people invent one. So let me answer the question I suddenly hear people (to name a few, and these are some of my very favorite baseball minds, but they’re just missing this one: Joe Sheehan, Bernie Miklasz, Doug Thorburn, and Buster Olney) asking way too often.
Q: Is the Cubs’ lack of pitching depth the weakness that could make them vulnerable in October, or even leave them on the outside of the playoffs, looking in?
It should be that simple. I’m not sure why the question is being raised, exactly, other than that people want to have some force other than catastrophically bad luck to which to ascribe it if the Cubs do fall short in 2017. That desperate desire to explain extraordinary variance, a compulsion so complete that we begin weaving our web of comforting rationalizations before there’s any evidence of need for it, is unhealthy and unproductive.
To any clear-eyed baseball observer, it should be obvious that the Cubs are the best team in the NL Central, and very likely the best in the National League. To any fan who has lived through more than a year or two of baseball, it should be obvious that extremely unlikely confluences of underperformance and injury can derail even teams this good. No further pre-explanation should be needed. The Cubs are very, very likely to win the division, and as likely as either the Dodgers or the Nationals to win the pennant, and as likely as the Dodgers or the Nationals or the Indians or the Red Sox to win the World Series. If they fail to do any of those things, it will be because baseball can be cruel, and because the best team does not always win, even over the long season, and especially in a short series.