While the Cardinals finished with the best record in the Major Leagues and won Game 1, there is still plenty of optimism in the Windy City. Here are three reasons why the Cubs are close to triggering a post-Halloween parade from The Loop to Wrigleyville.
Joe Maddon is magic:
Maddon has been known to bring a magician into his clubhouse -- you know, when he isn't attempting to loosen up his players through visits from zoo animals. He also can manage, and the combination produces victories smothered in pixie dust. Take the National League Wild Card Game, for instance. During the late innings, with Jake Arrieta pitching out of his mind and the Cubs already holding their 4-0 advantage, Maddon switched rookie Kris Bryant from left field to third base. Suddenly, the 61-year-old man with the big glasses did it again. Courtesy of that hocus pocus (or was it just another case of brilliant managing?), Bryant later turned a crucial double play. This is Maddon's first season with the Cubs, but he was a master of such things with the Rays during his previous managerial stop. Without magic, he juggles pitching as well as anybody.
Arrieta is channeling his inner Madison Bumgarner:
Come to think of it, have you ever seen the two of them in the same room together? All Bumgarner did last season was almost singlehandedly pitch the Giants from an NL Wild Card spot to a World Series title. All Arrieta did against the Pirates was nearly everything. During Arrieta's complete-game gem, the Pirates struck out 11 times and managed just four hits.
They were so frustrated by his perfection that they tried to pick a fight with the right-hander deep into the game. It didn't work. Nothing does against Arrieta, who finished with a Major League-leading 22 victories and a 1.77 ERA.
He hasn't relinquished a run in 10 of his past 13 starts and has thrown 31 consecutive scoreless innings. Arrieta will only pitch against the Cardinals in Game 3 of this best-of-five series, but if the Cubs advance to the best-of-seven NL Championship Series, he'll be available three times -- along with Jon Lester, who took the loss in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday.
The Cubs don't rattle anymore:
Well, the Cubs didn't against the Pirates. First, with a bunch of key rookies throughout their lineup, the Cubs ignored the raucous atmosphere on the road by jumping to a 3-0 lead after three innings Then there was the Addison Russell thing. He is one of those rookies for the Cubs, and after he made his debut for the season at second base, Maddon switched him to shortstop, his natural position, a few weeks later. Russell was impressive in the field -- until Wednesday night's sixth inning, when he booted a grounder to help the Pirates load the bases for their only threat against Arrieta. Just like that, visions of past woes for the Cubs began to dance in the heads of their long-suffering fans, but here's the thing: that Pirates' rally ended on a double play. A double play started by Russell, who along with his fellow rookies and the rest of the Cubs aren't jittery about this series against the Cardinals.