Sometimes your favorite team doesn't make the playoffs, and if you're in that unenviable position this year, we at Beyond the Box Score want to help you decide who you're going to root for (or against) this postseason. We'll be publishing ten articles, one for each playoff team, with writers laying out the case in favor of and opposed to each team. In this one: the would-be cursebreakers, the Chicago Cubs.
Root for the Cubs
For as long as I've been alive, being a Cubs fan has meant existing in a never-ending cycle of existential despair. Returns to a feeling of hope – for the team's chances in a given season, the long-term outlook of the club, or something in between – are always followed by a crash back into complete and utter despondency. The descent is often fueled by an ungodly amount of Old Style.
I'm a Cubs fan. You can pinpoint exactly where I fall on the above cycle when I say that this year might be different. After this year, there might not be a cycle anymore, since the 2016 Cubs are pretty close to the best team in my lifetime. That's reason number one to back the Cubs – there's great aesthetic pleasure in a team as good as this one. Plus, you want to back a winner, right?
Even with Jake Arrieta not matching his dominant 2015, the pitching staff has been stellar. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have taken Jake's spot atop the various pitching leaderboards, and head up a formidable playoff rotation. The Cubs have also taken a page out of the 2014-15 Royals' playbook, and crafted a monstrously good bullpen, adding Aroldis Chapman to Pedro Strop, CJ Edwards, and Hector Rondon. Not all the run-prevention credit goes to the pitchers, however; the Cubs defense has been otherworldly by basically every measure. The Cubs have posted a 6.32 Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, which is 4.43 above the next highest team, and 81 Defensive Runs Saved, which is 31 above the next highest.
And, oh yeah, there's the offense, which has been incredible even without Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward (essentially). Kris Bryant has emerged as the MVP front runner this season with 8.4 fWAR and cemented himself as a true superstar. Anthony Rizzo isn't far behind him, either, thanks to the kind of athleticism you rarely see at first base. Steps forward from a number of youthful Cubs – Addison Russell, Javier Baez, and Jorge Soler – have given the team a huge boost as well. This is a great team playing great baseball, and that's a satisfying thing to watch. Whatever your personal favorite aesthetic aspect of the game is, the Cubs have you covered.
But there's an emotional appeal to this team, too. They're young, with the most plate appearances and fWAR from players under 26 of all playoff teams; they're old, with crusty veterans like David Ross and John Lackey; and they've got the innovative and quirky Joe Maddon at the helm. There's a ton of chemistry to this team, and it's manifested itself in a loose, casual, not-quite-cocky way of playing that is perhaps best exemplified by Javy Baez and his tagging exploits:
Then, beyond all the on-field appeal of this team, there's the fact you assuredly already know, that this franchise hasn't won a World Series in over a century (hence the aforementioned despair). That's a lot of pressure riding on every Cubs season, and the franchise and its fanbase have suffered more than long enough. Plus, imagine the kind of party Cubs fans and players will throw.
Finally, if all that is somehow not enough: how are you going to say no to this smile?
You're not, is the answer. Root for the Cubs.
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Root Against the Cubs
Listen, it's easy to be lured in by the Cubs. They're young, exciting, and so stupendously good. They're the cool new kid on campus with the fancy car and money to spend on beer for all the freshmen. They've suffered for years, and now their 108-year drought is so close to being over. What's not to love?
Don't be seduced by Kris Bryant's gorgeous blue eyes. Don't allow yourself to be embraced by the warm comforting feeling of a likely win from a long-suffering underdog.
Heh, underdog. Let's talk about these "underdogs."
The Cubs were cool when they burst onto the scene a year early in 2015. They magically won 97 games in a year in which they were supposed to be easing their rookies into the big leagues and seeing whether or not Bryant would strike out too much. He didn't, of course. He only won Rookie of the Year while Jake Arietta built on his second half success from 2014 to win the goddang Cy Young Award.
So in response to winning 97 games, the Cubs brought in literally every single free agent and won 103. The Cubs aren't a novelty anymore; they're a bona fide juggernaut built to last for a million years. They hit, they pitch, they defend, and fly a big ol' white flag every time they win. Then they sing "Go Cubs Go." Have you ever listened to "Go Cubs Go?" You've had 103 chances to hear it this year. Here, give it a listen. I hope your ears don't bleed too much.
Yeesh, at least "Meet the Mets" is catchy and whimsical. "Go Cubs Go" is the bad theme song of a children's show about baseball starring Christian Slater and Anthony Michael Hall. In case you're wondering, no, that's not a compliment in any way shape or form. It is a bad song, and it should feel bad.
It's a bad song that plays to celebrate the victories of the mighty. Imagine if the Warriors had a schlocky song that rang from the rafters every time they won a game. Then, imagine that song playing every time they won after they signed Kevin Durant. It's not fun. It's almost mocking. It's Dennis Nedry's computer telling you "Ah-ah-ah! You didn't say the magic word!" while the velociraptors are figuring out how to open the door.
Since the trade deadline, it's often been playing after a guy who was suspended for domestic violence has recorded his third out.
There's a lot of fun shiny things going on in Wrigleyville, and I understand why you may want to root for the Cubbies. Just know that you're picking the side of the star football player in his fight with the captain of the chess club. Sell your soul if you like.
Or, snicker while 108 years becomes 109 and someone starts grumbling about goats. It's entirely up to you.