CHICAGO -- The Cubs repeated as National League Central champs this year. Can they repeat as World Series champs?"You cannot ask for a better time to start playing your best baseball of the year," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Right now, our guys, you watch them in the clubhouse and
CHICAGO -- The Cubs repeated as National League Central champs this year. Can they repeat as World Series champs?
"You cannot ask for a better time to start playing your best baseball of the year," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Right now, our guys, you watch them in the clubhouse and in the dugout, that look is back, that focus, that concentration is at its highest point among the whole group. You have to be there to understand it. I've seen groups with it and groups without it, and our group has it."
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Last season, Chicago's starting pitching was dominant, boasting two NL Cy Young Award candidates in Jonathan Lester and Kyle Hendricks, and it had hard-throwing Albertin Chapman in the bullpen. This year, the Cubs' pitching was good, but not as powerful, and that may affect how far they get in the postseason.
Wade Davis' fastball may not draw the "oohs and aahs" that Chapman did when the lefty hit 100-plus, but the right-hander has been nearly perfect, saving 32 of 33 chances.
The Cubs face the Nationals in the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile, starting tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT on TBS. Here are three reasons Chicago could celebrate another World Series in Wrigleyville:
1. Been there, done that
Last year, the Cubs were considered possibly too young, too inexperienced to go all the way. The kids just shrugged, played well and beat the Indians in the Fall Classic in seven games. Now they know what to expect, they know how to prepare, they know what to do. It helps to have veterans like Davis and Jonathan Jay who have won World Series and can provide guidance if needed. Said shortstop Addison Russell: "This is the road. It starts here. We know the road we have to go down. We just have to continue."
2. Feeling good
Russell (right foot strain), Willson Contreras (right hamstring) and Albert Almora Jr. (right shoulder) are getting healthy at the right time. Russell hit a home run in his first at-bat coming off the disabled list and delivered a three-run blast on Wednesday in the clinching game against the Cardinals. Contreras doesn't know how to slow down and has been stealing bases since coming off the disabled list. Almora, who crashed into the outfield wall at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, will be ready when the NLDS starts. The only question mark is Jacob Arrieta, who has been nursing a sore right hamstring and was scratched from his final regular-season start on Sunday.
3. The MVP is back
Kristopher Bryant's RBI numbers are down compared to last season, when he won the NL Most Valuable Player Award, but he's been a huge factor in the Cubs' success. He's ranked among the NL leaders in runs scored, and after batting .269 in the first half, he's surged in the second half, hitting over .300. Bryant admitted he was a little fatigued in the first half -- part of the World Series hangover that seemed to affect the whole team -- but he's heating up at the right time. If he's not driving in runs himself, he's setting up Anthony Rizzo and others behind him.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.