With all due respect to the other three Division Series, only one of them features the team that's won three titles in the past six seasons (and looking to make that four of seven) against one of the best regular-season teams we've ever seen. The Giants have won 11 consecutive
With all due respect to the other three Division Series, only one of them features the team that's won three titles in the past six seasons (and looking to make that four of seven) against one of the best regular-season teams we've ever seen. The Giants have won 11 consecutive postseason series, dating back to the 2003 National League Division Series, while the Cubs went 103-58 and outscored their opponents by an absurd 252 runs.
So you have the team that's been there, with 12 current Giants (plus manager Bruce Bochy) having been present for all three World Series championships, and the team that's trying to end the most famous drought in sports history. The stories practically write themselves, and we'll get to watch them all unfold when the series begins with Game 1 on Friday at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.
:: NLDS: Giants vs. Cubs coverage ::
Let's go position-by-position to see how these two clubs stack up.
A big part of Chicago's success this year was its ability to replace things that weren't working with internal options that were even better. The Cubs lost part-time catcher Kyle Schwarber early, then didn't get acceptable production from Miguel Montero (.216/.327/.357, 83 wRC+, where 100 is league average) so they promoted Willson Contreras in June -- and all he did was out-hit (.282/.357/.488, 126 wRC+) every other NL catcher who received 200 plate appearances. That said, a half-season of good production isn't enough to give Contreras the edge over baseball's best catcher, Buster Posey, who is an underrated pitch framer (+27 runs, best in baseball) to go with his above-average bat.
All Anthony Rizzo has done for the past three years is hit like Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt; he's a legitimate superstar who keeps putting up the same consistently great season of 32 homers and 5 Wins Above Replacement. It's a credit to the underrated Brandon Belt that he makes this close, because his line this year (.275/.394/.474, 138 wRC+) wasn't that far off from Rizzo's .292/.385/.544 (145 wRC+), once adjusted for the difficulty of hitting in San Francisco, but this is still Rizzo's clear edge.
Ben Zobrist has been a star for years, being an average or above-average hitter every season since 2008, and he put up yet another good season this year, hitting .272/.386/.446 (124 wRC+). Joe Panik's season (.239/.315/.379, 90 wRC+) can't compare to that, especially when you realize that the Cubs could potentially spot Javier Báez and his electrifying defense here, too.
There are a lot of similarities here, in that both teams have plus defensive shortstops who can offer a bit of pop. Addison Russell and Brandon Crawford actually tied for the mostDefensive Runs Saved among shortstops in baseball at +19, and that's a big deal considering the caliber of fielder we see at that position. Crawford's season-long line (.275/.342/.430, 107 wRC+) was better than Russell's (.238/.321/.417, 95 wRC+), but Russell made big strides in the second half by cutting his strikeouts (24.6 percent down to 20.1) and increasing his slugging (.402 up to .436).
Small advantage: Giants
Kris Bryant isn't just going to be the NL Most Valuable Player Award winner -- he might win it unanimously. Bryant (.292/.385/.554, 149 wRC+, 39 homers) was the second-best player in the sport behind only Mike Trout, according to FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement, and you all know by now that he seamlessly went between multiple defensive positions. Conor Gillaspie will never have to buy a meal in San Francisco again after his Wild Card heroics, but that doesn't make him Bryant.
Big, big advantage: Cubs
This one gets complicated, because the Cubs don't have a regular left fielder, so you could see Chris Coghlan (.252/.391/.388, 113 wRC+ with Chicago) against righties, or Jorge Soler (.238/.333/.436, 106 wRC+ this year) and his total lack of platoon splits, or even Bryant (36 starts in left) or Contreras (21 starts), thanks to Chicago's versatility. Ángel Pagán (.277/.331/.418, 105 wRC+) is a useful player as well, but Joe Maddon's ability to get any matchup he likes in this spot gives Chicago a small edge.
Small advantage: Cubs
Despite all the big names at Wrigley, there are those who would tell you that Dexter Fowler is the cog that makes the team run, because their brief midseason swoon roughly coincided with his absence due to a hamstring injury. That's probably overstating it a bit, but his offensive production (.276/.393/.447, 129 wRC+) easily outdoes that of Denard Span (.266/.331/.381, 96 wRC+). Fowler also played deeper in center, with the goal of preventing extra-base hits from going past him.
Hunter Pence (.289/.357/.451, 121 wRC+) has been one of baseball's most consistently above-average players for years, settling into a comfortable routine of being a hitter that is about 20-30 percentage points better than league average. On the Cubs' side, it should be noted that Jason Heyward's defense remained elite and was a big part of how starters like Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester managed such low ERAs, but there's no talking around an unacceptable batting line of .230/.306/.325 (72 wRC+), one of the five weakest of any qualified hitter.
This is where the Cubs versatility really shines, because Maddon might be able to call upon Baez, Montero, David Ross, Soler/Coghlan, Tommy La Stella, or Matt Szczur, each of whom bring certain strengths. The Giants will have some combination of players like Gorkys Hernández, Trevor Brown, Kelby Tomlinson and Grégor Blanco, which doesn't quite match up.
Big advantage: Cubs
There's a very good case to be made that the two best San Francisco starters (Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto) are as good or better than the two best Chicago starters (Lester, Hendricks). But Bumgarner will be able to start only once, because he was used in the NL Wild Card Game, and the next two Cubs starters (Jake Arrieta, John Lackey) are preferable to the next two Giants starters (Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore). It's closer than you think, but that gives the edge to the Cubs.
It's hard to imagine a bigger mismatch than Aroldis Chapman, the game's pre-eminent flame thrower (and a pitcher who struck out 90 in 58 innings this year) against the revolving door that's been the ninth inning for San Francisco. To give credit to Sergio Romo, he did make six straight scoreless appearances after returning to the ninth, and we've seen him do this in big spots before, but he's not Chapman. No one is.
Big advantage: Cubs
While the extent of San Francisco's bullpen collapse was somewhat overstated (a September relief ERA of 3.31 wasn't all that bad), the group of relievers the Cubs have collected in front of Chapman is stellar. Carl Edwards Jr. and his high-spin fastball quickly became one of the more electric relievers in baseball, with no one -- not Chapman, not Zach Britton, no one -- inducing less contact on pitches in the zone. Héctor Rondón (58/8 K/BB in 51 innings) was doing a perfectly capable job as the closer before Chapman bumped him to a setup role, and Pedro Strop (60/15 K/BB in 47 1/3 innings) has long been one of baseball's most underrated relievers.
Big advantage: Cubs
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.