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The “five” most valuable Cubs from the 2016 postseason
Another day, another Tweetbag! This time it’s not my fault.
You can blame this on Matthew Freedman. His submission to this week’s Tweetbag requires its own column.
On the surface this doesn’t seem that hard. Javy Baez had his career breakout during those playoffs. Jon Lester was incredible in all three rounds. Kris Bryant had three enormous homers. Aroldis Chapman WAS the bullpen for three rounds. Ben Zobrist was the World Series MVP and got the biggest hit in franchise history. Jake Arrieta won two World Series games and hit a three run homer off of Madison Bumgarner in the NLDS. Kyle Hendricks…oh, shit, this is going to be impossible isn’t it?
Can I write on the bottom five Cubs of the postseason? That would be easier.
Anyway, I guess it’s time to break down scientifically.
I figure we can narrow it down to ten and then go from there. But first here are the honorable mention guys.
Jason Heyward - He did shit for most of the playoffs, but I’m not sure if you ever heard about a speech he gave in the weight room during a rain delay?
Albert Almora - Made a ludicrous catch against the Giants that helped keep game three going, and he tagged up that one time.
Carl Edwards Jr. - So close to closing out the big one, but inexplicably walked Brandon Guyer and gave up a hit to Davis and had to be bailed out by Mike Montgomery.
Addison Russell - He drove in nine runs in the World Series as the youngest player on either team. His game four homer in the NLCS helped turn the Cubs’ offense around. He’s the last player ever to draw a four-pitch intentional walk (in the 10th inning of game seven of the World Series.) But, that was before we knew what a complete scumbag he was. At least Aroldis Chapman let us know beforehand so we could factor it in. Russell should easily be on the top ten, but screw him.
Mike Montgomery - He got the biggest out in team history, and his four innings of relief in game three of the NLDS didn’t win that game for the Cubs, but he burned the Giants’ bullpen out with his effort and it paid off handsomely the very next night.
Travis Wood - He allowed just two runs in nine playoff appearances in 2016 and he became just the second relief pitcher to ever homer in the postseason. And, he wore a shirt for most of it.
Miguel Montero - He got only two hits in the entire playoffs, but I’ll bet you remember both of them. And he had this classic moment at the end. Montgomery was so erratic warming up in the bullpen that when he came in the game he told Miggy he wasn’t sure what he could throw for a strike. Montero turned to jog back behind the plate and said, “Eh, we’ll figure something out.” Two pitches later the Cubs were world champions.
John Lackey - He made one start in all three rounds, the Cubs won two of them and he didn’t get past the fifth in any of them.
Dexter Fowler - He didn’t hit very well in the postseason. In fact he walked only twice in 17 games and struck out 17 times. But, he led off game seven of the World Series with a home run, the ultimate in “you go, we go.”
10 - Jake Arrieta - He made four starts in the playoffs and the Cubs only won two of them. But they were pretty important. Game two and game six of the World Series. He took a no-hitter into the sixth in game two and hit that homer off of Bumgarner in San Francisco. Oh, and he was warming up in the bullpen when Montgomery came in to get the final out of the postseason. If Monty had faltered, or if the Indians had a righthanded hitter to sub for Michael Martinez, Jake was going to come in on ZERO days’ rest to try to close it out. Would you have bet against him?
9 - David Ross - The playoff rewatch on Marquee (for all six of us who get it) is a pretty amazing way to recall how the Cubs’ backup catcher was in the middle of basically everything, all playoffs long. He was Jon Lester’s personal catcher so he was in the biggest games, because Jon was in the biggest games. But Ross made some incredible defensive plays, picked guys off in key spots, shut down all three opponents’ running games, bailed Rizzo out on a would be dropped foul ball in game five of the World Series and drove in the winning run that night, and in game seven, after looking like he was trying to lose the game with a throwing error and being knocked on his ass by a wild pitch that scored two runners, he homered off of Andrew Miller. He really, truly, was one of the most important Cubs in that postseason.
8 - Kyle Schwarber - What he did is still unbelievable. And I was the guy who was confident he’d come back for the playoffs, even though it was a completely unreasonable expectation. And then he not only did it, he was awesome! He had five regular season at bats, all in the first week of April, and there he was in game one of the World Series nearly going deep off of Corey Kluber. That was just one of seven hits in that series including three in game seven. Kyle didn’t just come back to play, he was very nearly the World Series MVP. If we ever take that comeback for granted we should be beaten about the head and shoulders. It should not have been possible, but it was, and if it hadn’t happened, the Cubs might well be on year 112 and waiting.
7 - Ben Zobrist - He didn’t get a lot of hits in the first two rounds, going just 6-for-36, but the ones he got were huge. The double in the ninth inning of game four against the Giants was the one that made that threat into a rally, and he had big hits in LA other than the infamous bunt in game four. But he hit .357 in the World Series and you may have seen, or at least heard about, a certain RBI double he hit in the final game. I FEEEEEELLLL ALLLIIIIVVEEEE!
6 - Anthony Rizzo - He struggled in the NLDS and through three games in the NLCS, and that was after a not-so-great playoffs in 2015. But from the moment he picked up Matt Szczur’s bat in game four in LA to the end of the postseason he had 17 hits, four homers, 10 RBI and an OPS of better than 1.100. He was—what he’s always been in his eight years as a Cub—there when they needed him the most.
5 - Aroldis Chapman - He was acquired to do one thing and that was get big outs in the playoffs. He pitched in nine of the 17 games, and pitched an astounding 15.2 innings. He struck out 21 hitters and yes, the first thing you’ll always think of with him is him giving up that homer to Rajai Davis (the only home run Aroldis allowed in that entire year with the Cubs). But with the season on the line in game five in a one run game, Joe Maddon went to Aroldis with one out in the SEVENTH inning and Chapman brought it home. And, give him credit, after the Davis homer in game seven he retired the next four guys and was the reason the game even made it to the rain delay.
4 - Kyle Hendricks - His first start in the 2016 playoffs was cut short when he got hit with a line drive, but his next four starts went like this:
Lost 1-0 to the Dodgers in game two of the NLCS.
Beat the Dodgers 5-0 in game six, face the minimum over seven innings, left with one out in the eighth and got the win in that pennant clinching game.
Lost 1-0 to the Indians in game three of the World Series.
Started game seven when the Cubs won the World Series.
Yes, Joe took him out too early in game seven. You need to get over that, because it all worked out just fine. But the fact remains, Kyle Hendricks had an incredible run in the 2016 playoffs, allowing five runs in five starts. Is that good? That seems good.
3 - Javier Baez - Did you remember that Javy made two errors in game seven of the World Series? Even if you did, you don’t care. Javy carried the Cubs’ offense in the NLDS and was co-MVP of the NLCS with Jon Lester. He made incredible, game turning defensive plays in every round, stole home against the Dodgers, hit a game winning homer against the Giants, and homered in game seven off of Kluber. Javy didn’t just leave his fingerprints all over those playoffs he carved his name into them.
2 - Kris Bryant - Hit .375 against the Giants, .304 against the Dodgers and hit two momentous home runs against the Indians. He was in the middle of every rally, tagged up on the shallowest sac fly (probably) in World Series history, and the sight of him grinning as he scooped up Michael Martinez’s grounder (and then slipping as he threw to first) is iconic. Pat Hughes was right, we will remember where we were when that happened for the rest of our lives. Bryant’s number two because he was Kris Bryant for the entire postseason. He was the one guy the Cubs could count on every damned game.
1 - Jon Lester - This was not hard. Here are Lester’s 2016 postseason stats. 5-1, 2.02 ERA, 35.2 innings, 30 K’s, 6 walks, 27 hits. All of our lives we’ve watched big playoff games when the bullpen door swung open and somebody like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson or Bumgarner trotted out on no rest to get the biggest outs of the season. And we had that moment in game seven when Lester did it for the Cubs. He pitched three innings and the two runs he allowed were because of a six foot Jason Kipnis dribbler that Ross threw down the line and then a “wild pitch” that hit Ross in the mask and literally stunned him. In his six appearances in that postseason Lester gave up 0, 1, 1, 3, 2 and 1 earned runs. He started off game five of the World Series with his team teetering and struck out the side in the top of the first. Shit like that matters. Big Jon set the tone and the rest of the boys followed. Teams ride pitching in the postseason and they saddled up Big John all three rounds. He’s the greatest free agent signing in team history, and those playoffs are all the proof you’ll ever need.
Hey, maybe that wasn’t so hard after all.
What it is, is a reminder of what made the 2016 Cubs so great. That’s a lot of really good baseball players. Turns out that was the secret to breaking the “curse.” Just be better than everybody else.