MLB: Who Do the Chicago Cubs Want in the Playoffs?

The Chicago Cubs are beginning to run away with the best record in baseball, sitting at 97-55 coming into play on Friday (as of publication). That places them at 8 games ahead of the next closest team, the Washington Nationals, which almost completely assures that they’ll have the home-field advantage in the NLDS. All contenders come with their share of concerns, but for the Cubs the biggest question may have to do with who they end up drawing in the first round of the postseason. So who do the Chicago Cubs want to face in the playoffs? Here is the case for each of their four likely opponents.

Miami Marlins

MLB: Who Do the Chicago Cubs Want in the Playoffs?
Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins pitches during a game against the New York Mets | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Marlins are still close — albeit on the outside — in the wild-card chase. Losing Giancarlo Stanton for the season won’t help their chances, but at this point anything is possible. Should they make it to the wild-card game and then into the NLDS, the Chicago Cubs would match up against a young, inexperienced team with a thin pitching staff beyond ace Jose Fernandez, who would presumably pitch, leaving him only really available for Game 3 of the series.

Miami is nothing special in the run-scoring department, either, ranking No. 11 in the National League despite having several hitters in the regular lineup with individual good seasons. Seven of their eight starters this season — counting those on the disabled list — have an OPS over .750. Considering all the facts, the Marlins might be one of the more ideal matchups for the Chicago Cubs in the postseason.

Los Angeles Dodgers

MLB: Who Do the Chicago Cubs Want in the Playoffs?
Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers (C) looks on prior to the 87th annual MLB All-Star Game on July 12, 2016 | Harry How/Getty Images

The Dodgers are currently leading the NL West, but there are two scenarios in which the Chicago Cubs could play them in the NLDS. First, the Dodgers could fall out of the division lead and end up a wild card, and second, the Cubs could hit a skid that lands them just the second-best record in the National League. If this scenario shakes out, it’s probably one of the better options for the Cubs as well — at least based on what we know now.

The Dodgers have had a slew of pitching injuries, with Clayton Kershaw not having pitched since late June and no official timetable for when he may return. Rich Hill just came off the disabled list — finally — and they’re still waiting on Brett Anderson, Scott Kazmir, and Brandon McCarthy. There’s a decent chance that should the Dodgers end up playing the Cubs, they won’t have their full complement of pitchers available.

St. Louis Cardinals

MLB: Who Do the Chicago Cubs Want in the Playoffs?
Aledmys Diaz of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after hitting a walk-off single against San Diego Padres | Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Facing the St. Louis Cardinals would be a rematch of last year’s NLDS, which the Cubs won 3-1. The Cardinals have experienced a rough time with the pitching this year, getting a good year from starter Carlos Martinez but not much from anybody else. They’ve had injuries to their position players and poor years from Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk, but somehow Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko have combined for 47 home runs in less than 700 plate appearances.

Facing the Cardinals doesn’t seem like an ideal matchup. Outside of the team’s familiarity with each other (the Cardinals at leading the season series, 7-6), there’s the fact that the Cards have recently called up pitching prospects Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes. A rotation featuring those two, plus Martinez and veteran Adam Wainwright, could be the kind of “lightning in the bottle” that a clearly inferior team like the Cardinals could use to beat the Chicago Cubs in the postseason. As fun as seeing these rivals play in the postseason again might be, it’s not ideal.

San Francisco Giants

MLB: Who Do the Chicago Cubs Want in the Playoffs?
Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals during the 2014 World Series — a more successful time for the Giants | Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Another less-than-ideal matchup for the Chicago Cubs would be the San Francisco Giants. As of right now, the Giants would play against the Cardinals in the wild-card game with the winner heading to Chicago. That likely means that Madison Bumgarner would have pitched already and wouldn’t be able to go again until Game 3. But they also have Johnny Cueto on their pitching staff, meaning that the Giants could throw Cueto and Bumgarner in three of the five potential games in a series against the Cubs.

And that’s not what you want. Toss in the fact that former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija — likely out for some sort of revenge for being traded two seasons ago — would be another pitcher they’d face, and this series has all kinds of potential for disaster. It’s also worth pointing out that it’s an even year, meaning the Giants are on schedule to win another World Series trophy this season; they’ve won it every even year going back to 2010. Of all the potential teams that the Cubs could face in the NLDS this season, the Giants are the worst possible matchup.

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Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Baseball-Reference.