October is a long way off – heck, spring seems intent on sticking around a while.
But when the Cubs and Giants hook up for a three-gamer by the Bay, the mind can’t help projecting.
Those fun, lovable Cubs lined wall to wall with blue-chippers and charged with ending Baseball’s Greatest Curse versus the been-there, done-that and reloaded Giants on their even-year march.
A potential preview of the National League Championship Series? Sure felt that way.
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Other teams will have their say: the Nationals, Mets, Pirates and Cardinals. Even the Dodgers, provided they win once in a while when Clayton Kershaw isn’t pitching. That’s the complete list. (Don’t believe in the D-backs, or those uniform pants with the vanishing leg stripes.)
Certainly, the Cubs belong in the projection. They’re playing nearly .700 ball despite a recent hiccup that elicited this gem from first baseman Anthony Rizzo: “If anyone thought we were going to win 140 games, I want to know what they’re taking.”
If anyone thought we were going to win 140 games, I want to know what they’re taking.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, on team’s 4-6 stretch
And the Giants have put their tepid April in the rearview, boasting MLB’s best May record (15-6) following Sunday night’s 1-0 victory behind Madison Bumgarner’s 7 2/3 spotless innings.
If these teams meet in the fall, the Giants will hope to have Bumgarner lined up against Cubs ace Jake Arrieta. Instead, we got Arrieta vs. Jake Peavy, as big a mismatch as the baseball deities could’ve conjured up.
Still, if Buster Posey had gotten a few more feet of carry on that fly ball, maybe Friday night’s opener would’ve turned out differently. Or maybe the Cubs would’ve won 5-4 instead of 5-1. We’ll never know.
Saturday was an important bounce-back, both for the Giants and a certain right-hander. After struggling through his first handful of starts, Matt Cain has started to resemble something closer to his former self.
Cain tossed six sturdy innings to halt a 16-start winless stretch that dated to last July. More importantly, it was his third straight quality outing against a potent lineup (Blue Jays, D-backs).
It’s good to see him gain traction. He’s a big part of this staff ... and I know it’s got to be a load off his shoulders.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy, on Matt Cain
When at peak form, Cain got a fair share of swing throughs but was more about inducing weak grounders with breaking pitches and harmless fly outs with the fastball. The guy the Cubs faced looked suspiciously close, down to the stoic expression that hasn’t changed since he pitched for the Fresno Grizzlies (with those ugly forest green caps) in 2005.
Predictably, Cain isn’t buying into the “he’s back” narrative. Not quite yet.
“No, I think that’d be a bad thing for me,” he told Giants beat writers following the 5-3 win. “The biggest thing for me is to keep pushing and finding different ways to get better and move forward.”
If Cain’s recent outings become habit, the Giants’ rotation will really solidify. The early returns on Johnny Cueto (6-1, 2.70 ERA) and Jeff Samardzija (6-2, 2.66) have been so good that Peavy can stink it up every fifth day without causing too much harm. (If tradition holds, Peavy will come up with a phantom strain sometime soon.)
Because the Cubs are new arrivals to the big stage and the Giants have won three championships since 2010, it would be easy to label this as a battle between young and old. But take a closer look. San Francisco’s three top starters are younger than Chicago’s (Bumgarner is only 26, remember), and each is signed long term.
Because the Cubs are new arrivals to the big stage and the Giants have won three championships since 2010, it would be easy to label this as a battle between young and old. But take a closer look.
The Cubs have some outstanding young position players, no question. Kris Bryant is 24, Addison Russell 22 and Javier Baez 23. Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward are both 26. None has reached his prime.
The Giants have two starting position players, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy, who fit that description. Both are 25. Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are all under 30. So the heart of this lineup has a fairly youthful beat as well.
With both franchises loaded for now and seemingly for the future, this could only be the start of meaningful games between the Cubs and Giants. Somewhere, Will Clark and Mark Grace are smiling. Though not at each other, in all likelihood.
You never want to make too much of any pre-Memorial Day games. I realize the season isn’t even a third of the way through. But from what we’ve seen from the Cubs all year and the Giants this month, it looks more and more like these are the National League’s two most complete teams.
Come October, there’s a pretty decent chance they’ll meet again for entry to the World Series.
Holy cow, if only Harry Caray could be around to see it.