I recently got the chance to be able to watch the Cubs play at Wrigley last Tuesday against Angels and Thursday against the Cardinals and a few things stuck out to me as to why the Cubs really are the heavy World Series favorites, aside from the fact they have the best record in all of baseball. They dominated the Angels on Tuesday and were able to win a very tough extra-inning game against a Cardinal team that is in the thick of things, and obviously was a huge rivalry game. What I saw, though, goes deeper than just winning two games and how they were won.
The first major thing that stuck out to me was the depth that the Cubs have. They have three guys that can catch very well. On Thursday David Ross started the game as Jon Lester’s personal catcher and later left for Willson Contreras. Ross started the game and got two big hits while guiding Lester to a gem, and then Contreras made a few huge blocks on Mike Montgomery pitches and ended up scoring the game-winning run after he led off the bottom of the 11th inning with a big single. These things seem to be pretty common for the Cubs, as they have a bench that normally contains Ross, Javier Baez, Matt Szczur and one of Miguel Montero or Contreras. Most of these guys are under team control and ahead of their prime too, so this depth could lead to a potential dynasty. The Cubs have this depth for the rest of the season and they can either keep it or use some of it in trades to maybe acquire a starter or reliever to really make their pitching staff solid. This is depth that other teams quite simply don’t have. Normally when a guy gets hurt, the team is in a bind and has to replace the guy that will put up a negative WAR, or has in seasons past. Take the Tigers for example: they recently had their breakout third baseman Nick Castellanos break his hand and called Casey McGehee up. McGehee had a WAR of -1.4 according to FanGraphs last season. The Tigers also recently acquired shortstop Erick Aybar to fill in for the injured Jose Iglesias. Aybar’s 2016 fWAR: -1.2. The Cubs had Kyle Schwarber go down at the beginning of the season, and Willson Contreras came up in June to take on the same role that Schwarber had in 2015. Contreras has already put up 0.8 WAR before he’s had 200 plate appearances. The fact of the matter is that injuries, fatigue, and disappointments happen, but the Cubs have what it takes to bounce back from that and those are things that most teams don’t have, but it’s what any champion will. The Royals got their game-winning hit from Christian Colon last season, a solid bench player who wasn’t an everyday player during the regular season but had talent. The 2013 Red Sox had guys like Daniel Nava and Mike Carp who didn’t have everyday positions but hit very well when called upon. They also had young talent in Jose Iglesias, who was traded for a huge rotation piece in Jake Peavy, and Xander Bogaerts who played very well in the playoffs. Good teams have depth, because when you have a ton of good players you can either keep making moves that make strategical sense or use it to get pieces for your team (something the Cubs used their farm system for). The Cubs depth has helped them survive the injury to Schwarber and down season of Jason Heyward, and it will continue to help them and it makes them a step above the competition.
You can have depth, but the depth needs to have talent, and the Cubs obviously have talent. We know their rotation is very good, with almost everyone having a FIP under 4.00 and averaging around a strikeout an inning. The bullpen is solid, with newcomers Aroldis Chapman, Montgomery, and Joe Smith teaming up with Hector Rondon, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop to form a very solid core. But how is a lineup with a batting average of .256, the median in the MLB, going to win a World Series? The answer is that the Chicago Cubs get on base. Their on-base percentage of .345 is tops in the NL, and only behind the Boston Red Sox in all of baseball. The secret behind the Cubs success is a lot of walks and standing near the plate. Both Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo stand pretty close to the plate as part of their hitting approach, and it also pays in hit by pitches. There’s also players on the team like Miguel Montero. Montero is hitting .187 but his 32 walks have his on base percentage over .300. Addison Russell isn’t quite hitting up to his potential yet, but he’s also just 22. He has a 17 percent RBI percentage, which measures the times he drives in runners compared to runners he’s had on (not including home runs). That’s the highest on the Cubs. Russell is also approaching a 2.0 defensive WAR, and he’s slashing .397/.456/.641 in high-leverage situations. Jason Heyward isn’t doing what he wanted with the bat, but he has a defensive WAR of 1.2. The Cubs have all these guys that get on base (four players with an OBP over .380) and even the ones with a lower OBP are making huge contributions.
The last thing is that the Cubs have a 43-19 home record. That’s the home record of a playoff-bound team usually, but the Cubs actually have a worse batting average at home compared to the road and their on-base percentage is nearly equal. If the Cubs can dominate at home but have the hitting power to hit well both in the park they’re used to and the road, you have a team that can be a big playoff threat. All the ingredients are there and this is a dream team any way you look at it or philosophy you have. The Cubs are easily the favorites to win it all because of all of this.