– Cruz Serrano
Over the course of the past couple of seasons, one of the trends seems to be teams ending long playoff droughts. In 2013, the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time since a heart breaking championship series loss to the Braves in 1992. And in 2014, the Royals ended a 28-season drought, the second longest in baseball history, en route to a World Series loss. This season is more of the same. The Mets and Cubs are ending 8 and 6-season droughts respectively; this will be the Mets first playoff berth since blowing divisional leads to the Phillies in back-to-back seasons. And north of the border, the Toronto Blue Jays will be in the postseason for the first time since Joe Carter walked off the Phillies to win the World Series in 1993. Part of the beauty in baseball is the randomness and unpredictability. Even with the big signing of Jon Lester and a new manager in Joe Maddon, it seemed like the Cubs would still be at least a season away considering the competition in their division alone and the youth that they would be relying on. Even further from the realm of possibility seemed to be the Mets’ chances at the postseason, especially winning the division, considering the expected dominance of the Washington Nationals. The Blue Jays looked like they were going to be a mirror image of 2014: an offensive juggernaut that wouldn’t pitch enough to be true contenders. Looking back at the beauty in randomness, the assumptions that these teams wouldn’t be good enough was pointless, and obviously, fruitless. However just as well as the randomness, baseball has a tendency to be poetic as well. Perhaps one of these Cinderella-esque teams can have an ending to their season to rival a T.S. Eliot piece.
Here we are with the end rapidly approaching, and a postseason that may just end up being one of the best in recent memory. Having had the opportunity to watch all three of these teams over the past couple of weeks, it is clear that the fan bases for each team are already amped up for the postseason. While playing the Yankees at home last week, the Toronto faithful erupted over the three game set in what were the loudest regular season games I can remember. The same can be said about the bleacher bums and the rest of the Wrigley faithful who have been loving their lovable not-quite-losers all year. Mets fans have been waiting for a chance to get behind their team and remove the bitter taste left from the end of the 2006 postseason, as well as the meltdowns the following two years. With the excitement surrounding these teams, what can fans truly expect, and which team has the best chance at claiming a World Series title?
Starting with the Mets, it is clear that this is not the same team we saw 2 short months ago. After acquiring Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, it became evident that the Mets were hungry for offense. After a botched trade attempt for Carlos Gomez, Sandy Alderson made what may have been the most impactful trade in recent memory by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes. The trade for Cespedes has been the focus of many when it comes to the Mets, and rightfully so. Cespedes has been nothing short of magical while posting gaudy numbers after switching leagues. Cespedes has posted a WAR of 2.6 since being acquired, which is third for Mets position players for the entire season. However, what seems to be overlooked is the part of the Mets team that is most likely to sustain them into October: their dominant young pitching. Pitching wins championships, and the Mets are rich in that category. The Mets currently rank sixth in the majors as a team in WAR by their pitching staff, as well as sixth in fielding independent pitching or FIP (essentially what a pitchers ERA would look like if they had league average defense). The young trio of Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard are as good as it gets for a top three, and behind those three Bartolo Colon and Steven Matz can also be considered dependable at the very least. With pitching being the strength of this team, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them make a deep run into October.
Another part to Donaldson's pre-game. Not really sure what this even is. pic.twitter.com/FT8vVSg2jC
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) August 22, 2015
With the Blue Jays, the equation doesn’t work quite the same way. Their pitching, which ranks eleventh in the league in WAR as a staff and fifteenth in FIP, has not necessarily been reliable all year. Before acquiring David Price at the deadline, this was a team that mostly relied on pitchers that may be considered role players. The idea was pretty simple: score enough runs so the pitching didn’t matter. With the MVP level breakout of Josh Donaldson AKA JoDo Solo and the continued success of Jose Bautista and company, the offense was able to keep the team afloat. After the acquisitions of Troy Tulowitzki and Ben Revere at the trade deadline, the offense truly took off despite an extended absence from Tulo. The Blue Jays as a team have posted a run differential of +110 since August 1, and a total of +223 for the season, which is by far the best in the league. With a true ace in Price anchoring the rotation and Tulo expected to return to action just in time for the postseason, this is a team that truly excites me. There is always the chance the lineup falls flat and doesn’t produce in a series, however I personally hope this team ends up representing the AL in the World Series.
What can be said about the Cubs? Although they have been in the postseason more recently than any of the three teams, they certainly have experienced the more prolonged drought. It’s now been well over 100 years since the Cubs last World Championship, and it’s also been about another 70 since the curse of the Billy Goat was applied and the Cubs last won a pennant. To go that long without so much as a pennant seems unfathomable, but that is the life of a Cubs fan. Although I am the first to try and ignore narratives such as curses, it almost becomes impossible to ignore when you think about the pain and suffering the fans of this franchise have endured. But, the sun may finally be rising on the Cubs’ prolonged state of darkness. Theo Epstein, who may know a thing or two about ending apparent curses, has built one of the most enviable young cores in all of baseball. With a line up packed with young stars, to a rotation anchored by proven veteran Jon Lester and late bloomer Jake Arrieta, the Cubs seem poised to steal the show come October. However, that is most certainly easier said than done, because as luck (or lack thereof) would have it, the Cubs aren’t even the second best team in their own division, at least according to their record. So, perhaps the Cubs have a tough road, one that includes an all-or-nothing wild card play-in game against the Pirates. And even if the Cubs come out of that game on top, the road gets a little bumpier when they have to head to St. Louis and face what has been the most consistent team in baseball all season. Maybe the road is rather tough, but one can only assume that a tough chance is better than no chance. And objectively speaking, the Cubs are probably the most balanced of these three teams. The Cubs pitching staff as a whole actually leads the majors in WAR, and they are actually second in team FIP. The Cubs’ position players as a group rank sixth in WAR, and they also rate close to the top of the league in several fielding metrics. Maybe the time is finally right, and the talented Cubbies can finally put an end to the curse, or perhaps they will just once again tease their faithful fans with the possibility only to let them down. Either way, the ending seems as though it would fit the criterion as poetic.
– Cruz Serrano (@cruzin_usa)