Bandwagon fans of the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs have already lit their torches and picked up their pitchforks after reading that title. How could the lovable Cubbies missing the playoffs be a good thing for baseball? I will answer that question not to appease the bandwagoners that will surely buy a new hat in late October of the “insert new champion name here”, but for true fans of the Cubs and of baseball.
Do you remember how one-sided spring training predictions were for the Cubs to steam roll through the season? I remember struggling to convince myself to give the Cubs “only” 96 wins, which tied for the lowest predicted amount of wins amongst our panel of experts.
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A powerhouse team failing to make the playoffs for reasons other than long-term injuries to key players is a show of power for the league. It took years for the MLB to move past the New York Yankees dynasty while the NBA is currently doing everything they can to convince their fans that their league is about more than just two teams. Let’s be honest, despite how close the wild card race currently stands there are only a handful of teams with a legitimate chance of making the playoffs. Having the World Champions fighting to make it into the playoffs in not a bad thing.
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Two surprise teams in the playoff running this season are continuing to tinker with their post non-waiver trade deadline rosters in hopes of extending their seasons. The Milwaukee Brewers just traded for second baseman Neil Walker to upgrade their infield depth. Walker played third base in his Brewers debut. Meanwhile, the Colorado Rockies brought in longtime Phillies superstar Ryan Howard on a minor league contract. Obviously the hope for Howard is that he can find his pinch-hitting power stroke by the time the rosters expand on September 1.
Nothing is more surprising than the fact the Cubs are fighting for their playoff lives in a division whose only playoff team will be the division winner. If the league only used the division alignments for the sole purpose of scheduling purposes, meaning only the top 5 teams make playoffs, the NL Central would be exempted from this year’s October festivities. As of this writing, the Cubs are in first place of their division with the Cardinals 4.5 games out of the wild card spot, Milwaukee is 5.5 games and Pittsburgh 7.5 games. Obviously the divisional race is much more exciting knowing only one of these four teams will the make playoffs. The Cards are one game behind the Cubs with the Brewers and the Pirates 2 and 4 games behind respectively.
So why hope the Cubs miss the playoffs?
The Cubs always tend to be a player in free agency. One has to believe the willingness to make a big splash increases with only failed expectations in the rear view mirror of the 2017 season. That said, everyone is already looking past free agency 2017-18 (the Cubs stand to lose starting pitcher Jake Arrieta) and staring intently toward the 2018 class. Arguably the top 3,4,and 5 baseball players (Mike Trout and Nolan Arenado rank 1,2) will be on the market in the form of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw. IF the Cubs miss the playoffs this season, how much more aggressively will they pursue Harper, (a player they have already been linked too).
This season’s trade deadline was highlighted by the trades of top free agents J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish to Arizona and Los Angeles respectively. It was your yearly reminder that teams chasing October glory are willing to take short term risks. The Nationals are expected to once again compete for the NL East crown next year (hopefully with a little more competition from a healthy New York Mets team) so a trade deadline move next year for Harper is extremely unlikely. Therefore it is safe to say any Bryce Harper rumors to the Cubs need to happen this upcoming off-season.
Theo Epstein has been hailed the “curse breaker” by many. Imagine what a more motivated than usual Epstein can do with a Chicago Cubs roster that disappointed! Fans would be calling for change if the Cubs made the playoffs and lost in the NLDS. The Cubs missing the playoffs may actually have Epstein picking up and/or making a few of those calls.
See, I told you that you should hope the Cubs miss the playoffs.