5 Keys to the Chicago Cubs Getting on a Track to the World Series
It's no secret how the Chicago Cubs have raced out to the best record in the majors.
The National League Central club, who OddsShark.com pegs as the early Fall Classic favorites, has scored the most runs in baseball and given up the fewest.
Thanks to that potent offense and stingy pitching staff, the Cubs own a 24-6 mark after sweeping aside the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. As ESPN's Baseball Tonight noted via Twitter, the last time the Cubs owned such a record was 1907, when the team won the World Series.
So, just what exactly does this year's squad need to match the accomplishments of the 1907 club? Naturally, it all starts with Jake Arrieta, but the staff ace is far from the only pitcher who the club will have to rely heavily on in the upcoming months.
A Cy Young Repeat from Jake Arrieta
As the San Francisco Giants—winners of three rings since 2010—have made abundantly apparent, any World Series hopeful needs a fall frontman.
For the Giants, Madison Bumgarner is the guy who's played the role of ridiculously dominant October ace. For the Cubs, Arrieta—the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner—is the starter who looks more than ready to handle that gig.
Through his first seven starts in 2016, the righty has been out-of-this-world good, reeling off a 6-0 mark and a 1.13 ERA.
"Jake Arrieta is the best player in sports right now," Mike Greenberg declared on the Mike & Mike show on ESPN Radio.
It's difficult to argue with Greenberg's assessment. As ESPN's Baseball Tonight noted via Twitter, the starter has more no-hitters (two) than losses (one) in his last 25 starts.
A Quality Supporitng Cast for Arrieta
It's possible for a single starter to do a MadBum impression and take over a postseason series, but even the nastiest of aces—like Arrieta—are bound to need help from their sidekicks before their club can make it that far.
So far, the supporting cast—especially Jon Lester and Jason Hammel—has been rolling along. Lester has spun a nifty 1.58 ERA in his first six outings, while Hammel clocks in with a 1.85 mark in six trips to the bump.
While Lester has a track record of dealing atop a rotation, it's more difficult to buy stock in Hammel's lights-out start. After all, Hammel ran up a 5.10 ERA in the second half of 2015.
New guy John Lackey hasn't been a slouch either. The vet has a less-than-shiny 4.02 ERA, but 12 of his 18 earned runs have come in a pair of his six outings.
While he settles in on the mound, the righty already appears to be at ease in the Cubs' colorful clubhouse. As you can see in this gem of a photo courtesy of Tony Andracki of CSN Chicago, Lackey recently showed up to work in a camo suit.
With Lester, Hammel and Lackey flanking Arrieta, the Cubs have the makings of a seriously dangerous postseason quartet.
Keep Listening to the Wise Words of Joe Maddon
It's not just his skillful in-game management or creative lineups that make Joe Maddon such a superstar of a skipper.
It's also his mastery of the mental side of the 162-game grind. That's a key reason why his juggernaut squad has yet to drop back-to-back contests in the early going, as he detailed to Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago.
"Well, I’m not sure people understand what it means to lose hard or win hard for 30 [minutes]. When you permit yourself to lose for more than 30 minutes then it can carry over to the next day. I think it’s important to understand that. I think that mindset is contributing. We’re pretty good at getting over it in 30 minutes."
Eventually, the Cubs will lose back-to-back contests.
Eventually, they'll actually wobble through a losing skid. But as long as the charges keep heeding the sage advice of Maddon, the Cubs will be ready to weather any storm—even in October when the pressure and expectations get ratcheted way up.
Get Jason Heyward Going
When a team has the best record in the bigs, it's easy to gloss over the fact that its star free-agent addition has been a dud.
That's the situation at Wrigley Field, where $184 million man Jason Heyward is slogging along with a .212 average, zero jacks and a grand total of five extra-base hits in his first five weeks as a Cub. Part of the reason for Heyward's glacial start is that he's been hobbled by a sore right wrist dating back to the Cactus League campaign.
"It's tough [to know when to take a couple days off]," Heyward explained, per Tony Andracki of CSN Chicago. "But I know it's not a ligament [issue]. You know your body. The way I did it—it wasn't running into a wall or anything like that. It was just working hard in the cage.
Joe Maddon rested the right fielder for all three games of the club's recent series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but based on the stats you would never know that Heyward has yet to join the part.
At this early juncture, the Cubs has scored more runs than any other team in the bigs and have posted the second-best OPS. Just imagine how scary this offense will be when Heyward heals up and starts raking too.
Keep Dialing Up the Punchouts in Relief
When it comes to high-octane bullpens, the Kansas City Royals have been the gold standard.
This season, the Cubs have been doing one remarkable job of copying that blueprint. Simply put, the Cubs' relief crew misses bats as good as just about anyone else. As Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com recently calculated, the team has the second-best strikeout-per-nine ration in the majors.
Closer Hector Rondon has emerged as the star of the show, punching out 18 batters in 11.1 frames while limiting the opposition to a .108 average. But he's not the only Cub reliever who's been flat-out filthy.
With Pedro Strop (2.03 ERA) and Adam Warren (1.35 ERA) backing up Rondon, Chicago has a three-headed monster that's ready for an October run.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.