Last night, the Boston Bed Sox advanced to the World Series with a win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, and, you know what, that’s exactly what I was rooting for. I’ve had just about enough of the Astros lately, and that’s before a friend of mine pointed out how much better both of these AL teams looked than the Cubs did at the end of the year, particularly on offense. Mood.
Tonight, the Dodgers could do away with the Brewers in Milwaukee, and that would be equally sweet. The Brewers are never going to be the true rivals of the Cubs – that distinction is reserved for the Cardinals – but this season, they sure did a good job of ticking me off. Including, perhaps most notably, game #163.
The Cubs lost that game to the Brewers, then lost the Wild Card Game to the Rockies, and here we are getting a kick out of a 37-year-old Ben Zobrist running around a field singing into his phone like a madman (but that video was amazing and Ben Zobrist is turning into one of my all-time favorite Cubs).
Now, all things equal, you’d – of course – prefer to still be watching the Cubs play baseball. Please don’t make me say that a bunch of times. I will not argue that fact one bit. I would prefer they were still playing. That’s the goal. And remember, no matter how good the AL teams looked, baseball is always gonna baseball (i.e. the Cubs would’ve had a chance to win the World Series if they made it that far). BUT given how bad the Cubs looked at the end of the season, how they may have fared against the Brewers and/or Dodgers, and how good the Red Sox still are, maybe this wasn’t the worst year for an early exit, right?
There’s also the motivational angle of how an early exit could spark a little bit of much-needed urgency, and Brett got into that a bit yesterday in his philosophical musings.
But there’s one other significant “consolation prize” for losing that Wild Card game at Wrigley Field: rest.
Maybe the Cubs needed this extra rest more than most.
In 2015, the Chicago Cubs played 162 regular season games and then 9 high-intensity postseason games. In 2016, the Cubs played 161 regular season games and then 17 postseason games. Last season, the Cubs played 162 regular season games and then 10 postseason games. And this year, the Cubs played 163 regular season games, and then one postseason contest. Add it all up and you have 37 extra games over the last four seasons. (To say nothing of the rest-free final month and a half of the Cubs’ regular season this year.)
That’s a lot of extra games being played. Just think about what that means for the pitchers.
Until more recently, a common criticism of Kyle Hendricks, for example, was that lacked the longevity to rack up high inning totals, but when you think about how many extra innings he’s thrown in all but one of his seasons (2014), the conversation changes a bit:
2015: 180.0 regulation IP, 8.2 postseason IP
2016: 190 IP, 25.1 IP
2017: 139.2 IP, 16.0 IP
2018 199.0 IP, 1.1 IP
The same could be said for Jon Lester and, to a slightly lesser/different extent, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana – not to mention the bullpen. And this is not just getting an extra month of rest, it’s also taking *extra* would-be innings away. At least there’s that.
And all of this isn’t tied exclusively to limiting extra innings for the pitching staff, either. Consider for a moment (1) the injuries the Cubs have dealt with this season to key personnel (Kris Bryant, Pedro Strop, Brandon Morrow, Darvish, etc.), (2) the old-timers who’ll still be leaned on next season, but have had deep postseason runs every year with the Cubs and even immediately before coming to Chicago (Ben Zobrist and Lester), and (3) the guys who were inarguably ground into a fine powder from heavy, heavy usage throughout the season (Willson Contreras, Steve Cishek, Javy Baez, etc.).
It might not make you feel better, but some of the Cubs *most important players* will benefit greatly from this time off. The Cubs have participated in four consecutive postseasons, three of which included very deep runs, and that’s not typical. Maybe that explains why they ran out of gas, maybe it doesn’t, but the rest now helps eliminates that excuse for 2019.
Putting this all simply: I think the Cubs will be better and healthier in 2019 because of their early exit this year. Almost nobody else has played as much baseball as these Cubs players have since 2015, and I think some of that is what showed up in the second half of 2018.
There’s never a “good” time for an early postseason exit. But I have a feeling these Cubs players will at least rest up well for next year.
Now the Cubs need to make sure they take advantage of it in 2019.