When the goal is to snap a World Series championship drought that’s existed for longer than Wrigley Field itself, it’s best to leave as little as possible to chance.

That pretty much explains the 2016 Chicago Cubs.

To do a quick recap of what happened in the regular season, the Cubs won 103 games and scored 252 more runs than they allowed. Both figures far outpaced those of any other team. The long and short of it is that the rest of Major League Baseball had no answer for how to stop Chicago.

So why should anybody be surprised that the San Francisco Giants haven’t found it in the National League Division Series?

One day after a thrilling 1-0 win in Game 1, the Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with a 5-2 win in Game 2 at Wrigley Field on Saturday night. This one was less thrilling. Both clubs scored all their runs in the first four frames. Then there was a bullpen battle that featured little drama until Aroldis Chapman closed it out with the help of his triple-digit heat.

And just like that, the Cubs are now one win away from their second trip to the National League Championship Series in as many years.

Oh, I know. It’s not wise to count the Giants out.

They weren’t always favored in their postseason matchups in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and more than once (2012 NLDS, 2014 NLCS), they found themselves with their backs against the wall. They cast whatever spell it is they cast and won three World Series anyway. And now they’re going home and will be throwing ace left-hander/postseason pitching deity Madison Bumgarner in Game 3.

“It’s tough to lose two here, but it’s a case that we have been down this road before,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, per Chris Haft and Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. “It’s never easy with us, so we’re hoping to get one here, but now we go home, and you keep fighting. That’s all you can do.”

However, nothing the Giants have experienced in their three World Series runs has prepared them for a team like the Cubs. Simple fact is: There is no team like the Cubs.

Their lineup was the first thing that caught the eye coming into the year, and it lived up to the hype. The Cubs finished second in the National League in runs and first in on-base percentage.

Manager Joe Maddon’s mixing, matching and manipulating were key. Even disregarding the pitcher’s spot, the Cubs’ skipper used 130 different lineups during the regular season. He didn’t use any one particular lineup more than six times. Taken with the collective on-base ability, the Cubs offense has basically been a shape-shifting monster that just…keeps…coming.

The shape-shifting aspect has yet to be seen in the NLDS. Maddon has only changed the last two spots in the two lineups he’s used. But the relentlessness of the Cubs offense was felt Saturday when it chased Jeff Samardzija with six hits, a walk and four runs in the first two innings.

Not to be overlooked in the midst of that was Javier Baez, who showed off another quality of this Cubs offense. Per FanGraphs, the Cubs were a top-five baserunning team in the regular season. Being aggressive in the right situations was a factor in that, and Mike Axisa of CBS Sports is right to point out how Baez’s aggressiveness on a single by Kyle Hendricks created an extra run.

Roughly 24 hours earlier, it was Baez who displayed the other noteworthy quality of the Cubs offense. He was one of nine different Cubs to hit 10 or more home runs in leading the team to 199 dingers in the regular season. If Baez hadn’t been Johnny Javy on the Spot with his clutch dinger off Johnny Cueto in the eighth inning, it may eventually have been someone else.

Even Cubs pitchers are no pushovers. They posted the second-highest OPS among National League teams this season. Hendricks lived up to that with a two-run single in Game 2. Travis Wood did him one better with a solo job in the fourth, becoming the first reliever to hit a postseason homer since 1924.

Meanwhile, the same guys who form a multitalented offense also form a multitalented defense. The Cubs finished far ahead of any other team in defensive efficiency, according to Baseball Prospectus. Ditto for defensive runs saved.

This has also been felt in the NLDS. The Cubs got out of character by making three errors in Game 2, but Game 1 featured David Ross do Jon Lester a solid by cutting down two baserunners. In a game that was scoreless until the eighth, that was huge.

Of course, Lester also did his part in shutting out the Giants for eight innings. That was a bit of same ol’ same ol’ for a Cubs starting rotation that led baseball with a 2.96 ERA. Hendricks, the major league ERA leader at 2.13, may have kept it up in Game 2 if he hadn’t taken a line drive off his pitching arm.

But Hendricks’ early exit was an opportunity for Maddon to show off his bullpen. Even before he called on his big guns (Hector Rondon and Chapman) to seal the deal, a B squad of Wood, Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery combined for 3.2 scoreless innings.

That was a taste of what things were like in the second half. The Cubs had a leaky bullpen before the break. But after the break, in part due to the additions of Chapman and Montgomery, it had a 3.11 ERA that ranked second in MLB.

Considering all this, give the Giants credit that this series hasn’t been one-sided. They’ve played the Cubs tough, only getting outscored 6-2. Take away runs driven in by pitchers, it’s only 3-2. For whatever that’s worth.

But in this case, it doesn’t feel like a bad break that the Giants have played the Cubs tough and still come away with two losses. It feels like reality running its course. The Cubs have been an unstoppable force all season. With an 87-75 record that a 30-42 showing in the second half brought down, the Giants are a poor fit as the immovable object that’s going to stop them.      

The big question, as such, remains unchanged: Is any team a good fit for that role?   


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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