CHICAGO — You don’t have to dig very deep into Chicago Cubs postseason history to find anecdotal evidence that head-to-head results in the regular season are not particularly predictive when October rolls around. You’d do just as well to predict when the ivy on the walls at Wrigley Field will turn yellow, or who will come out with this year’s best pumpkin ale.
Last season, the Cubs mashed the New York Mets during the regular season, taking all seven contests between the teams. When the Cubs and Mets ran into each other in the National League Championship Series, no small amount of digital ink was spilled on this fact, and not a little actually liquid ink. But of course it didn’t matter. In a series pitting two teams that had evolved a great deal over the 2015 season, the Mets swept the Cubs and extended the most famous curse in sports for one more season.
Chicago and New York didn’t meet after July 2 last season, so maybe the calendar for the Cubs-Giants series gives it a little more resonance. But probably not. No budding Nostradamus has yet cooked up the right recipe for turning regular-season results into a reliable postseason forecast.
But as with any matchup between good teams, there are a few things on display for close Cubs observers already prepping for the playoffs, should the Cubs and Giants square off. Here are a couple minor questions Chicago might like to see answered. Sure, it’s digging deep to find reasons for concern about a team 39 games over .500, but you can never be too perfect.
Can Anthony Rizzo get it going against the Giants?
Over the last three seasons, has just a .652 OPS against San Francisco (entering Thursday’s game). He’s at just .614 for his career, and 1-for-17 this season. He’s hit .188 in his career against Madison Bumgarner, who starts for the Giants on Saturday, and .091 in his career against Johnny Cueto, who takes the hill on Sunday.
Who will be the Cubs’ Bumgarner killer?
Bumgarner has had success in his career against Chicago (7-2, 2.19 ERA, 11 starts), but of course much of that was compiled against lesser Cubs teams. However, the current roster is a collective .212 against him with a .564 OPS in 167 plate appearances. We mentioned Rizzo, but righty Cubs sluggers Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez are a combined 0-for-15 against the big lefty. Ben Zobrist, on the other hand, is 6-for-9 lifetime against him. It’s a start.
Who will be the Cubs’ lefty bat in the late innings?
With Jeremy Affeldt gone and Javier Lopez and Josh Osich having a down season, the Giants have struggled to find quality lefties in their bullpen this season, with an OPS-against (.748) that ranks 21st in that area. Will Smith was acquired from Milwaukee to shore up that area but he’s struggled as well. (Though he struck out Rizzo in a big spot on Thursday.)
With Bruce Bochy perhaps having to lean on righty firemen more than he’d like, the Cubs’ season-long shortage of lefty bats could leave them at a competitive disadvantage. However, with Tommy La Stella and Chris Coghlan both returned to the active roster this week, this series could be good time to show that’s not a concern. Of course, it may not matter, as Bochy may keep rolling out whatever lefties he has on hand.