Postseason baseball started this week.
On Tuesday, Yankees beat the Twins for the AL Wild Card slot. On Wednesday, the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies by a narrow margin to take the NL Wild Card.
The 8 teams jumping into the playoffs were, in order of expected finish (from first to last in each division):
American League: 1. Cleveland Indians 2. Houston Astros 3. Boston Red Sox 4. New York Yankees
National League: 1. Los Angeles Dodgers 2. Washington Nationals 3. Chicago Cubs 4. Arizona Diamondbacks
On Thursday, the starting day for playoff games, Houston led off by bashing Chris Sale and his successive Red Sox relievers for an 8-2 victory. The Indians blanked the Yankees 4-0.
Today, Houston again raked the Red Sox, 8-2. Cleveland, down 8-3 at one point, rallied to tie the game in the ninth and win it in the 13th, 9-8.
The first National League meetings of the playoffs happened this evening, with my Cubs playing the opening game against the Washington Nationals. I went up to my folks’ house to watch the game with them, and coming into it, I wasn’t sure about how things were going to work out. The Nationals were vaunted for their bats, and for tonight’s game, for their starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who has been a top level pitcher ever since he entered the league six or so years ago.
On the Cubs’ side, undervalued starter Kyle Hendricks, last year’s regular season ERA champion, and a quiet, cerebral pitcher in the mold of Greg Maddux, had the task of keeping the Cubs in the game.
Once the game was being played it turned out to be a fantastic pitchers duel. Strasburg, for his part, struck out 10 Cubs in 81 pitches over 7 innings.
But he could not match Hendricks and the Cubs. Hendricks and his relievers gave up 2 total hits to the volatile Nats the entire game.
And it was a bobbled handling of a line drive by Nat third baseman Rendon with two outs in the 5th that changed the momentum of the game. After Rondon’s error, the Cubs got their first two hits of the game off Strasburg- which drove in their first two runs of the night. Which were enough for an evening when Hendricks went 7 innings, and reliever Edwards and closer Wade closed the door.
We’ll see how the Dodger and Diamondbacks do tonight.
One win doesn’t say what the Cubs, or any team, will do in the postseason. But it does give a look into their attitude and their confidence.
Houston may easily bash its way to a World Series championship. Or Cleveland may finally have found its ideal pace to run past each opponent in this field of teams and get a World Series crown. The Cubs came into the postseason as potential also-rans: they were last year’s champs, not expected to contend for this years title. They are considered underdogs in the series they play now with Washington, and a bit of a question mark when compared to other potential future opponents.
I suspect this is right where they want to be in this tournament. A question mark. Underrated.
It’s what their fans are used to. And somehow, in this year’s playoff run, it may be what best drives the 2017 Cubs to wins. Not excessive expectations upon them, but lack of expectations to challenge them.
Game two in this best of five series with the Nats is tomorrow afternoon.