Justin Dukes covers the Chicago Cubs and their developments for WARR.com
As it is with any championship caliber team, the postseason can’t come soon enough, and the Chicago Cubs are no exception as they begin the true defense of their first championship since 1908.
Also, the Cubs are likely too ready to put this regular season behind them, as they were unable to avoid the cliché belief of repeating as champions being far more difficult than first winning. The Cubs had a turbulent start to this season to put it plainly. However, over the past few months the team has been able to re-establish their winning magic of 2016.
“You cannot ask for a better time to start playing your best baseball of the year. 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.” said manager Joe Maddon.
Skipping out on his “I told you so” moment, Maddon probably realized it wasn’t a tall order to put his faith in this team. Going into Friday’s matchup against the Washington Nationals, it is evident now more than ever that this ball club has plenty of depth, experience and talent among other factors that could potentially lead to its next World Series title.
Left with a tough decision on his rotation going into the post season, Maddon elected to go with his starting pitcher from Game 7 of last year’s World Series in Kyle Hendricks.
With the best ERA (earned run average) in baseball last year, Hendricks has begun to resemble himself after being on the disabled list in June with a hand injury and Maddon has taken notice. Hendricks’ command of his craft has also caught the attention of his teammates as well.
“He’s done such a good job for us. He’s been consistent. Obviously, he deserves this. It’s a huge honor to pitch Game 1 of any series,” Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said to the Daily Herald.
Lester, who will be starting for the team in Game 2 of the series, like Hendricks was a Cy Young award candidate last season, but unfortunately is still looking to bounce back after injury along with Game 4 starter Jake Arrieta.
While the uncertainty surrounding the play of Lester and the convalescence of Arrieta remaining, the timely returns of players such as catcher Wilson Contreras and infielder Addison Russell have done an ample job at keeping the team’s optimism less blind.
Russell, having some of the most productive at-bats within the past couple of weeks to go along with the energetic play of Contreras have been more than just pleasant surprises and can now serve as building points for the perfect time to be playing the best baseball.
Russell’s production at the plate has been a step away from a recurring issue throughout this past season for the Cubs with hitting.
Now with players like outfielder Kyle Schwarzer and third baseman Kris Bryant coming in to the post season with a .311 and .300 batting averages respectively, there’s the very real possibility of a reversal of fortunes at the start of post season competition this Friday.
The NL East champion Washington Nationals come into the series with rhythm issues, like the Cubs, having several players in their bullpen returning from injury now hoping to catch fire at the right time.
Former Cubs Manager Dusty Baker will be looking to give the franchise their first playoff series win in Washington since moving there from Montreal in 2005, but it would be a tall order against this experienced and battle tested Cubs squad.
The Cubs should be the favorite here, and looking at the overall talent of both rosters, there shouldn’t be much surprise or shock as the Cubs advance.
Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio; Justin Dukes is a Chicago-based sports writer, follow him on Twitter @1kingzdream.