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Breaking down and ranking the Cubs' potential NLDS opponents

Written by
Chris Bourg
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For the second consecutive season, the Cubs are going to the MLB playoffs, this time as champions of the National League Central division for the first time since 2008. With two weeks remaining in the regular season and a playoff berth all wrapped up, the team will benefit from using this time to rest its regular starters while fans wait anxiously for the calendar to flip to October.

As we await the start of the postseason and look to fill the void of what are essentially meaningless games from now until the beginning of the playoffs, let's go over the Cubs' potential NLDS opponents and rank them in order of who we think will make the best match in the first round. (Let's also take a moment to reflect on the fact that we're dismissing the remaining regular season games in September as meaningless because the team won the division with so many games left to play. That's quite a change from the Cubs of yesteryear and speaks volumes to the behemoth of a team this organization has built. Just saying.).

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll assume the Cubs will clinch home-field advantage for the National League portion of the playoffs and therefore face the winner of the Wild Card game. Currently, there are three teams in realistic contention for the two Wild Card spots. They are:

New York Mets: The Cubs and their fans are undoubtedly still haunted by the ass-kicking the Mets laid on them in last year's NLCS sweep. Making matters worse, the Cubs went only 2-5 against them this season, including an embarrassing four-game series sweep at Citi Field. However, that sweep came at a time when the Cubs were playing their worst ball of the year and ended up being an unusual blip on the radar in an otherwise dominant season. And the Mets are not the same team as last year, or even earlier in the season. Outside of Yoenis Céspedes, their offense is wholly unimpressive. Injuries have sidelined some of their best players for the postseason, including star pitcher Jacob deGrom. They will likely have to start Noah Syndergaard on the mound for the Wild Card, meaning he probably won't be available to pitch again until Game 3 of the NLDS unless he pitches on short rest. The rest of the team's rotation is iffy at best. The Mets won't have the horses to run with the Cubs this year like they did last October.

San Francisco Giants: Their success in even-numbered years aside, the Giants would provide the Cubs' most difficult challenge in the first round. Their top three starting pitchers, Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner and former fan-favorite Jeff Samardzija, match up very well with the top of the Cubs' starting rotation, and none of them would have to pitch on short rest at the beginning of the series. Their offense is about average; collectively they don't hit for a whole lot of power but they get on base a lot. The Giants' main weakness, though, as we saw in the series between the two teams at Wrigley, is the bullpen's inability to hang on to close leads. This is crucial for the playoffs, especially against a team like the Cubs. With the offense the Cubs have, you never have a feeling they're completely out of any game that they're trailing in, and being matched up against a weak bullpen only gives you more confidence in that assertion.

Saint Louis Cardinals: This damn team just will not die. There is nothing particularly special about the Cardinals this year. Carlos Martinez has been great for them as an ace, and Aledmys Diaz is a good young shortstop. Other than that, there is nothing remarkable about this team's offense or pitching. Yet here we are, talking about the Cardinals closing in on a Wild Card spot as they continually find ways to win games. For that reason I want nothing to do with this team, especially since you know they will be out for blood after the Cubs bounced them out of the playoffs in last year's NLDS. Are the Cubs the better team this year? Absolutely, by far. But as a fan, I've been conditioned all my life to always be at least a little bit nervous when it comes to the Cardinals, no matter the circumstance. In this instance, the best thing to do is to just sweep them at Wrigley this weekend and bury this team once and for all for this season.

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