The Chicago Cubs currently own the best record in the National League at 70-50 and hold a 3.5 game lead heading into the games in August 17th. A few weeks ago, they surpassed Milwaukee to move atop the NL Central and hope that they are there to stay.
It would be a great surprise if we don’t see them playing October baseball and competing for the National League pennant. The Cubs are most certainly in the upper echelon of NL teams, but how exactly do they stack up with them?
Here are a few NL teams that should truly compete with the Cubs going into the homestretch of the 2018 campaign:
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
The Dodgers are the most real and obvious obstacle that stands in the way of the Cubs for the National League pennant. The Cubs and the Dodgers have met in the NLCS the past two seasons, and this year is shaping up to be the same way.
In terms of pitching, the Dodgers have a slight edge over the Cubs.
Both teams have a respective number one in Jon Lester and Clayton Kershaw. However, if Lester’s struggles continue, the Cubs may be out of an ace. The Dodgers have better pitching statistics across the board over the Cubs. Dodgers pitchers such as Alex Wood and Ross Stripling have been better than Cubs’ pitchers José Quintana and Kyle Hendricks this season. However, the Cubs pitching staff has more postseason experience, and if Yu Darvish is able to successfully return from injury, then the Cubs may be better-suited to duel with the Dodgers in October.
The Cubs and Dodgers are also fairly similar in regard to hitting as well.
The Dodgers were much more active at the trade deadline this season, acquiring both Manny Machado and Brian Dozier. Machado will serve to fill the void of Corey Seager’s season-ending injury, while Dozier will be able to bring more power to the lineup. Other Dodgers’ bats such as Max Muncy, Matt Kemp, and Yasmani Grandal will be tough to face in a postseason series. On the other hand, the Cubs will be able to feature their obvious stars like Anthony Rizzo and a likely healthy Kris Bryant. The Cubs also have Javier Baez, who has gone from human-highlight tape to a legitimate MVP candidate. Not to mention the Cubs have a .300 hitter in Albert Almora Jr. and a steady bat in Willson Contreras.
The fact of the matter is that the Dodgers and Cubs are very similar, and the winner of a postseason series between the two could come down to which pitcher or which batting order is in stride at the time.
The Phillies have are the most surprising team on this list, given that they only had 66 wins last season. A playoff series against the Cubs would be quite interesting given the possible storylines involved. The Phillies would feature Jake Arrieta in their rotation, the former Cub who and 2015 Cy Young Award winner. The Cubs would be favored in a hypothetical postseason series with the Phillies, mostly due to the experience and sheer talent on the roster.
As mentioned before, the Cubs pitching hasn’t been up to par this season but has the experience and skill to be great in the postseason. Meanwhile, the Phillies would have their all-star arms in Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta on the mound, but other than that the pitching has similar stats to those of the Cubs. The pitching matchups between the Cubs and Phillies would be a deadlock.
The Cubs will separate themselves from the Phillies with their lineup. The Phillies have solid young talent in Odubel Herrera as Rhys Hoskins, but their lineup cannot match the firepower that the Cubs have in Baez, Rizzo, Contreras, and Bryant. Given each and everybody is healthy, the Cubs will have a clear hitting advantage against the Phillies.
The Phillies are one of those teams that are a piece or two away from being a top National League contender. The Cubs are already at that point, thus meaning that they should be favored in a late-season clash with Philadelphia.
The Diamondbacks are the second NL West team on this list, behind the Dodgers. The DBacks lost to the Dodgers in the NLDS last season, but have continued to be a threat in the National League due to the consistency of Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt. However, the Cubs’ experience should be able to propel them to a series victory against the Diamondbacks.
The Cubs and Diamondbacks are pretty well matched when it comes to pitching. Neither team has a starter with a sub 3.00 ERA at the moment, meaning that a series between the two teams could call for a lot of runs.
In terms of hitting, the Diamondbacks feature a lineup that consists of great hitters such as Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta, and AJ Pollock. However, the Cubs have more depth and experience than Arizona and should be able to out-hit them in a possible playoff series.
As of now, Arizona owns a better record than the Dodgers, yet they aren’t being respected in the same manner as their NL West counterpart. This is due to the lack of star power and playoff experience on the roster, which might come back to haunt the team during an October series. The Diamondbacks are a star player or two away from becoming the National League’s best team, but they aren’t there yet.
The Brewers are the only team on this list that shares a division with the Cubs. The team didn’t lead the NL Central for the first half of the season for nothing. The offseason additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain have vastly improved the team. However, the Cubs should still be favored in a postseason series with the Brew Crew.
The Brewers and the Cubs play a lot during the regular season, given that they are in the same division. As of August 10th, the Cubs have won eight of eleven games against the Brewers this season, flexing their superiority over them. The Brewers don’t have any great starting pitching, much like the Cubs. However, when it comes to pitching, the common trend is that the Cubs should be able to use their experience to win a playoff series, especially when it comes to pitching.
The Brewers, like most of these other teams, are still a piece or two away from becoming a serious contender in the National League.
While all these teams could very easily “get hot” and sweep the Cubs in a postseason series, the only team that would probably be favored in a series with the Cubbies would be the Dodgers. The records speak for themselves. As of right now, it seems that the most likely scenario to happens would be a grudge match in a three-part NLCS series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.