Tom Verducci: Cubs Are Heaviest Favorite Since ’98 Yankees

The Chicago Cubs have been playing all season for the postseason. They’ve been playing for the World Series, which they haven’t reached since 1945 or won since 1908.

Well, the postseason has arrived, and the only question is, can the Cubs deliver?

“Well, let me start by saying this: I think they’re the heaviest favorite entering the postseason since the 1998 Yankees, and we all know that team won more games, including the postseason, than any team in history: 125 games,” MLB analyst Tom Verducci said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Now I know the Seattle Mariners won 116 games in the regular season in ’01, but that was not a dynamic team, certainly when it came to their starting pitching. The Yankees had much better starting pitching than Seattle, so they weren’t really clear favorites. The Cubs, to me, (are clear favorites).”

Still, every team has a weakness, including the Cubs, who lost 58 games. Where are they vulnerable?

“They’re vulnerable in very small areas,” Verducci said. “No. 1, their starting pitchers are actually poor at holding base runners. So if you have speed – and the Dodgers don’t have a lot, but the Nationals certainly have some – you could take advantage of the starting pitchers and grab a base here and there. Is that enough to win a game? I’m not sure. The other place (where) I see they’re vulnerable (is) when they go with their best defensive lineup, which is having Jason Heyward and Javier Baez in it, they do sacrifice a little offensively. In Hayward’s case, pure velocity gets him out. So there are some holes in the lineup.

“That being said, those are small things,” Verducci continued. “It’s not like you can beat them in the bullpen because their bullpen’s great. Their starting pitching’s great. They’ve scored more runs than every team but Boston and Colorado. They’ve allowed the fewest runs. I think their defense is the best in the last quarter of a century. So of the big things that are important in postseason play, I don’t see an obvious hole. I think what it’s going to take is someone just to completely out-pitch the Cubs. You have to better than them from inning 1 to 9, and it’s going to take a shut-down staff to do it. Low-scoring games is the way to go.”

While the Cubs have been the best team in baseball, David Ortiz has been one of the game’s best players. He hit .318 in his age-40 season, led the Red Sox in homers (38), RBIs (127) and OBP (.401), and helped Boston to 93 wins and an AL East title.

Ortiz would love nothing more than to win a fourth World Series championship in his final postseason, but first he needs to exhale.

“He’s been worn down by all the attention, no question about it,” Verducci said. “The last couple weeks, I just saw an exhausted David Ortiz. It was written all over his face. He’s going to need these few days off to kind of reset and recharge, but I think he’s so tired of it physically because I believe he’s one of the most beloved players of this generation. I really do. You see the way other teams respond to him, this goes well beyond the Red Sox and Red Sox Nation. He’s so popular among players that he played against, and I think it’s because he’s got a great personality, but he also goes out of his way to help opposing players.”

Ortiz, for example, helped pull Justin Upton out of a slump this season.

Justin Upton plays for the Tigers.

“That’s just the kind of guy that he is that people respond so well to him,” Verducci said. “So I think of this generation – let’s call it the Wild Card generation – I think the two most important players are probably Derek Jeter and David Ortiz. Jeter because he was such a role model and probably the most respected player, but Ortiz because he changed history. (He won) three world championships and he had so many hits, but also by force of personality.”

Verducci recently asked Ortiz what he was most proud of in his career. The three world championships? The 10 All-Star appearances? The 2004 ALCS MVP? The 2013 World Series MVP? The 2006 home run crown? His six Silver Slugger awards?

Nope.

“He didn’t mention any of those,’ Verducci said. “He said the fact that a lot of people respond well to me, whether it’s the media, whether it’s the fans, whether it’s opponents, he said I think it’s my personality and the way I treat people that I’m most proud of.  And I think he’s dead right on that. I really do because that’s, I think, why he’s so popular.”

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