The Cubs' 'Lovable Losers' Tag Is Dead. That's A Good Thing.
By Stephen Gossett in News on Oct 6, 2017 9:02PM
The Chicago Cubs at loooong last shed the moniker of "lovable losers" with their almost comically dramatic Game Seven victory in last November's historic World Series. But honestly, that victory felt almost like something of a formality in terms of obliterating that mythos. After the team's ridiculously commanding streak during the regular season last year, not to mention the sweeping transformations around Wrigley Field itself, it was increasingly difficult to view the team through the same "beautiful loser" mythological lens. Yes, the tag would stick if they hadn't sealed the deal, but the sea change was clear: the Cubs are good. Very good.
Which brings us to this postseason. The Cubs are still a very talented team. (They're in the National League Division Series, no?) But they're not world-beatingly good. They're not so-good-at-defense-we-need-to-devise-new-metrics good. They're not 103-wins-with-a-historically-high-Wins-Above-Replacement good. According to most projections, the Cubs have about a 10 percent chance of winning the World Series. Not bad in the crapshoot that is the MLB playoffs, but still decidedly middle of the pack.
And they do indeed have their weaknesses. As FiveThirtyEight points out, the Cubs in particular have had to navigate a lot of perplexingly mediocre pitching this year. The staff suffered in terms of Fielding Independent Pitching, strikeout rate, walk rate, home-run rate and coughed up the slowest fastball rate in all the league, senior sportswriter Neil Paine notes. In terms of the NLDS. It's basically a tossup. The Cubs have a slightly less than 50 percent chance of advancing, according to baseball forecasts. Point is, this year's Cubs are not the prohibitively favored juggernaut, disguised in an outgrown Cinderella gown, they were this time in 2016. So despite the century-plus-of-futility narrative, this team is actually closer to an underdog—and who doesn't like a competitive underdog?
Speaking of narrative, the Cubs have surrendered that lock, too. Cleveland Indians fans are officially the most long-suffering. Even the Washington Nationals, perennial postseason bridesmaids not long after arriving from Montreal as the Expos, have the sympathy gap covered: they haven't reached the NLCS in more than 30 years. So perhaps in a weird reverse logic, the Cubs might actually be more root-able without the entire globe pulling for them—and fueling ramped-up North Sider fatigue.
It sounds like a pretty good position. Or maybe not. Maybe they'll go existentially adrift without their longtime identity. But from where we sit, being neither "lovable losers," especially the dubious late model, nor sure-thing dynastic titans is a pretty fine place to be.
Game 1: Friday, Oct.6, in Washington, 6:31 p.m. (TBS)
Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 7, in Washington, 4:38 p.m. (TBS)
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 9, in Chicago, TBA (TBS)
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 10, in Chicago, TBA (TBS)
Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 12, in Washington, TBA (TBS)