It's weird to me how little we talked about the Cubs this year. We couldn't avoid them a season ago, or even this past winter. Everything went their way in 2016. Kris Bryant won the MVP, Anthony Rizzo posted career highs across the board, the starting pitchers all stayed healthy, role players did their jobs, and the front office's decision to trade for Aroldis Chapman paid off in a huge way. The worst thing to happen to them last year? Kyle Schwarber got hurt in April, but he made it back in time for the World Series where it was actually advantageous for the team not to have home field advantage so they could have the DH! The 2016 Cubs won 103 games in the regular season, and had one of the best defenses of all time. The off-season conversation about them centered around whether or not they would become a dynasty.
But this year? It's been....strange. It reminds me of the 2005 Red Sox, for obvious reasons. The Sox that year were coming off a season that ended a crazy long championship drought, V similar to what the Cubs just pulled off. It's understandable each group would be physically (and emotionally) drained. Plus there's the Theo Epstein connection. He even talked about the similarity between the two years, and the possibility of a championship hangover here.
At the end of the first half the Cubs were 43-45. WTF? It made no sense. A hangover was really the only explanation. Most every player on the Cubs roster had either maintained the previous year's level of production, or had regressed. Kyle Schwarber even got sent down to Triple-A.
But things turned around in the second half. The Cubs went an insane 49-25 to end the season, basically winning 2 out of every 3 games they played. Yet they were never "The Story" of baseball. Cleveland's winning streak, the Dodgers' losing streak, and Giancarlo Stanton's pursuit of 60 homers all overshadowed them. They've flown under the radar, even as the playoff are now underway, and it's impressive the Cubs even made it here. They're the first defending champ to make the post-season since 2012, and the first to do so winning their division since 2009.
As for their round 1 series, the Cubs have their hands full. Yes, the Nationals have fallen short in the playoffs time and time again. They've won the NL East in 2012. 2014, 2016, and now 2017 - and have never made it to round two. But this is probably the best team Washington has ever had. The Cubs have the "experience", but I keep coming back to how drained they must be. When you include 2015 it's now been two straight years of deep playoff runs for the Cubs starters. All those innings have to add up eventually.
The 05 Sox ended up getting swept in the Division Series. I would be surprised if that happened to this Cubs team, but if a team ever had the look of a group who is emotionally spent, it's the 2017 Cubs.