October 23, 2016


71-YEAR ITCH: CUBS' PENNANT OVERDUE (Manny Randhawa, 10/23/16, Sports on Earth)

Let's begin with the length of the season: The ten Cubs teams that had reached the World Series from '06 to '45 played 154-game seasons. The 1918 club, which lost to Babe Ruth and the Red Sox in the Fall Classic, played 131 games in a season shortened due to World War I.

Following the regular season, each of those teams advanced to the World Series against the American League champion. As you know, there were no playoffs in between; the clubs from each league with the best win-loss record at the end of the regular season played each other for the championship.

Of course, today's road to the World Series is much more rigorous: 162 games and three playoff rounds (which includes the Wild Card Games). This year, the Cubs had to play 18 more games than their predecessors did before reaching the best-of-seven World Series.

From the introduction of the Wild Card in 1995 through 2015, the club with the NL's best record won the pennant only five times (just once over the final 12 seasons in that period). In other words, the postseason has been a minefield for teams like the Cubs over the past two decades.

Along with the lengthened season and proliferation of teams to beat in the playoffs, this year's Cubs are playing a different game than any other squad in franchise history that got to the World Series.

One of the most pronounced changes is the quality of pitching and usage of bullpens: The '16 Cubs faced 300 different pitchers during the regular season. The '45 Cubs faced 92, the '38 Cubs faced 77, the '35 Cubs faced 76, the '32 Cubs faced 68, the '29 Cubs faced 77 and the '18 Cubs faced 66.

This season's Cubs had to go up against hurlers that threw much harder, on average, than those their predecessors faced. Today's pitchers also have a larger repertoire in their arsenals. The result? In 2016, Major League hitters struck out 8.1 times per nine innings (a record), and pitchers struck out an opposing hitter 21.1 percent of the time (also an all-time high). A change in how hitters approach their craft has something to do with that (only during the 2000 season were more homers hit across the Majors). But pitching has become tougher, nonetheless.

In 1945, the strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio was 3.15, and pitchers struck out 8.1 percent of the batters they faced. Every other Cubs team to reach the World Series going back to 1918 did so in a season during which the K/9 ratio was between 2.9 and 4.6; the percentage of batters that struck out was within the range of 7.2 to 8.7.

All of this is not to mention the fact that this year's Cubs had to get through the likes of Madison Bumgarner (arguably the greatest postseason pitcher in baseball history) and Clayton Kershaw (the best pitcher on the planet) twice just to reach the World Series, beating Kershaw in the pennant-clinching Game 6 of the NLCS.

Posted by at October 23, 2016 8:58 AM