Here at Beyond the Box Score, we're running a series on why each of the playoff teams will win the World Series. Of course, we can't all be right, but lucky for you I am and it's my privilege to tell you that it will be the Chicago Cubs who hoist the Commissioner's Trophy this fall. When it's all said and done, and the Cubs have broken the curse, winning their first championship since 1908, it's going to be because of the bats they've added this season.
Entering 2015, the Cubs were a team on the upswing. They snatched sabermetric and hipster darling Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays, added a top arm in Jon Lester during free agency, and traded for center fielder Dexter Fowler. They also had arguably the best class of prospects with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber waiting in the wings. The Cubs weren't proclaimed the 2017 World Series champs, but everyone knew they were going to be a force for years to come. It turns out those years started in 2015.
They Cubs have not fallen below .500 at any point this season, but on July 29th, the Cubs had just a 41 percent chance of making the playoffs, despite a record of 53-47. A casualty of playing in the National League Central, a meat grinder that had two of the three best records in league in the Cardinals and Pirates. The Cubs run differential confirmed they were a .500 team. The season looked like a building block. Perhaps it would be similar to the campaign the Royals had staged two years earlier, setting up their 2014 American League Pennant and crushing World Series defeat.
But then everything changed. They went 44-18 in the two months that followed, scoring 83 more runs than they allowed. Their run prevention improved, dropping from 3.85 to 3.60 runs per game. What really changed was their offense, which shot up form 3.83 runs per game to 4.94, more than a run per game! So what changed?
In the first half, Rizzo and Bryant carried the team. No only did Rizzo round out the top 5 in wRC+, he was wreaking havoc on the basepaths too, stealing 12 bases. Rizzo cooled but remained well above average in the second half while Bryant remained eerily consistent.
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What changed was the production of the rest of the lineup. Yes, long-time Cub Starlin Castro recovered from a disastrous first half, but what's interesting is that the new guys who slumped in the first half have all found their stride. Fowler boosted his walk rate, Russell cut down on his strikeouts, and Soler began to hit for power. For Fowler, the improvement was a recovery with second half stats that are better, but still comparable to the season he put up with the Astros in 2014. Soler's fly balls left the yard at a rate befitting his raw power. Russell overhauled his stance, allowing him to catch up to fastballs. Schwarber, well, they just had to find room for him on the field.
The Cubs will win the World Series because they have great pitching. The Cubs will win the World Series because they have great manager who won't cost them games and may even help win one. But most of all, the Cubs will win the World Series because the four rookies and veteran that they added to the lineup have helped to turn the offense into one of the most fearsome in the game.
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