It is difficult to root against the Chicago Cubs because of their history. Anytime a team has an opportunity to go to the World Series for the first time since 1945, it tugs at everyone's heart strings -- everyone except for San Francisco Giants fans.
In the first two games of their National League Division Series, the Cubs have shown why they had the best regular-season record in the Major Leagues. Yes, the Cubs have made a couple of mistakes, but they haven't hurt them as they head into Game 3 (today, 8:30 p.m. CT/6:30 p.m. PT on FS1 and FOX Deportes). They have capitalized on most of their scoring opportunities, and they have received magnificent pitching.
When Kyle Hendricks was hit by a line drive off the bat of Ángel Pagán and was forced to leave the game after 3 2/3 innings, the Cubs didn't panic. Besides getting fantastic pitching from their bullpen, reliever Travis Wood even homered, giving his team an emotional lift.
:: NLDS: Giants vs. Cubs coverage ::
Going to San Francisco doesn't worry the Cubs. Although AT&T Park plays differently than Wrigley Field, the Cubs are confident they can win one game there. The Cubs have been adapting to different stadiums all year. They have incredible power -- the fifth most home runs in the NL -- and they know how to manufacture runs since they scored the second-most runs in the league.
While the Giants have Madison Bumgarner, with his long and unbelievably impressive postseason record, going in Game 3, the Cubs have the current reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta to counter. The Cubs only need to win one more game to advance to the NL Championship Series, whereas the Giants must win three in a row if they want to continue the path to their fourth World Series championship since 2010.
Because the Giants were in the same position in 2012 and prevailed over the Cincinnati Reds, they aren't as panicked as most teams would be in this situation. However, this season's Giants aren't as good as the '12 squad.
At the All-Star break, the Giants had the best record in baseball. They had injuries to Hunter Pence, Pagan and Joe Panik, but those players were coming back in the second half. Their offense and pitching were getting the job done, so the Giants should have cruised to the NL West title.
However, the Giants collapsed. They were 27th in baseball, 12 games below .500, in the second half. They couldn't score enough to win. Their starting pitching struggled, feeling the pressure to protect those slim leads. The bullpen blew a Major League leading 30 saves.
The Giants narrowly made the playoffs in the second NL Wild Card spot. If Bumgarner hadn't shut out the New York Mets and Conor Gillaspie hadn't hit a dramatic home run, the Giants wouldn't be in the NLDS.
In the first two games of the NLDS, the Giants have scored only two runs. This anemic offensive production won't get the job done in the playoffs, when teams face the best pitching that baseball has to offer. The Giants' lack of power has been obvious. Manufacturing runs is necessary, but during the playoffs teams need to score multiple runs with one swing. Good pitching doesn't allow teams to link hits together to have rallies.
Although the Giants have all of the confidence in the world that they can win the series, they must play better to do so. They must score early and often to get the crowd into the game. Bumgarner must go at least seven innings to give the weary bullpen a rest.
While the Cubs have momentum, the Giants have playoff experience on their side.