The Cubs' playoff advantage that nobody will see — literally


Did we get a look over the weekend at what a less congested road to the World Series looks like for the Cubs?

We certainly got a look Tuesday at how different the Cubs’ 25-run weekend against the White Sox might have looked if the Sox had put their best starters on the mound.

Sox ace Lucas Giolito opened the playoffs Tuesday by retiring the first 18 he faced — and 21 of the first 22 — to win in Oakland. And Wednesday’s Game 2 starter for the Sox, Dallas Keuchel, is the lefty who pitched what might have been his best game during a lights-out season to beat the Cubs last month at Wrigley Field.

So what’s that have to do with the Cubs and the playoffs?

So the Cubs didn't see either of those pitchers over the weekend — and their long-slumbering lineup rocked, rolled and raked against the other guys in the Sox rotation for a confidence-boosting finish to their season.

And if that’s not quite a preview or apples-to-apples comparison for what’s in store — and not in store — for the Cubs during what they hope is a three-series run through the National League side of the bracket, it at least has a familiar tone to it.

Because one of the strangest of oddities in this already unique postseason is just how many of the top starting pitchers in the league this year did not make the largest playoff field in big-league history.

No Zack Wheeler, no Antonio Senzatela, no Zac Gallen — who are ranked second, third and fourth in ESPN’s and Baseball Reference's pitching WAR rankings — with the Phillies, Rockies and Diamondbacks missing the playoffs.

Big deal?

There’s also no Jacob deGrom, no Max Scherzer and no Aaron Nola in the field — three more from those top-10 WAR lists.

Split hairs on the metrics all you want, but that's six of the top 10 starters in the league by one metric — and 10 of the top 20 in ERA by another.

The Nationals’ Scherzer and Mets’ deGrom have combined to win the last four NL Cy Young Awards. Scherzer also won the 2013 AL Cy Young, and deGrom likely will be a finalist for this year’s award in the NL.

Wheeler and Nola represented a 1-2 nobody wanted to see in the playoffs — until the rest of the Phillies, including the worst bullpen (7.06 ERA) in the majors, eventually cost them a playoff berth down the stretch.

Senzatela, whose Rockies rotation mate Kyle Freeland (whose 2.2 WAR put him in a virtual tie for 10th on ESPN's list), also was derailed in large part by the majors’ second-worst bullpen (6.77 ERA).

It doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t run into the likes of Cy Young favorite Trevor Bauer or pandemic-season studs Dinelson Lamet, Max Fried, Dustin May or Clayton Kershaw along the way.

But it does suggest that a team looking for any edge it can find offensively, coming off a three-day confidence nudge against the Sox, could find one in a field that’s already been skimmed of a lot of its pitching cream.

The elimination of off days for travel during each series (until the World Series), with the advent of the postseason bubbles after the first round, offer another boost for any lineup when teams are forced to use fourth and fifth starters in the longer series.

The Cubs already were talking about rediscovered “swagger” during their big offensive series against the Sox — which included two of their four games with 10 or more runs this season — and about the value of a group reset heading into October.

“It’s nice to try to carry that into the postseason,” said manager David Ross, cautioning against pinning offensive expectations to any single factor or trend.

“I don’t know how to predict that,” he said. “I think just watching the guys get in, and the looks on their faces in what they’ve accomplished, and just their attitude —and you saw them swinging it good Sunday — there’s a sense of, like, ‘OK, now we go.’

“They know how to play in this environment, and they expect a lot out of themselves,” he added. “They know what it’s like playing pitch-to-pitch, at-bat-to-at-bat in this environment and how crazy this time of year can be.

“This is exciting. This is the fun part. This is where you make history.”

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