There’s no curse


So which was the team on the field at San Francisco Tuesday night that’s supposed to be cursed?

The one whose Gold Glove shortstop threw away five bases and two runs on two errors? The one whose bullpen gonged five relievers — three of whom didn’t get an out — in a four-run ninth inning?

(Forget about the weather in San Francisco. If you like the Giants’ bullpen, just wait a few minutes. It will change.)

Or the team, which held to two hits through eight innings, put bat on ball for four hits, some seemingly guided out of the defense’s reach by a mysterious hand or force, in a remarkable ninth inning?

The even year turned uneven in the most stunning and upsetting manner to the Giants.

It’s been 108 years since the Cubs have won a World Series, and since then they’ve had fans deflect foul balls, ground balls go through infielders’ legs and a fan whose billy goat couldn’t get into Wrigley Field, birthing the legend of a curse rather than a world championship.

It’s all hooey of course. The main thing the Cubs have been cursed with is a lack of talent. The 2003 team which Steve Bartman interfered with? It won 88 games, was ninth in the NL in runs scored and seventh in run differential, third in its own division. It won three more games, according to the Pythagorean formula, than it should. Was it cursed to get into a playoffs it probably should have missed?

(2003 was a great year if you believed in that short of bunk. The Red Sox, like the Cubs, lost a three-run lead in the late innings of a late playoff game. They weren’t cursed by the Bambino, but by a bad managerial decision.)

Hundreds of years ago, we threw women into water to see if they were witches, but we outgrew it for obvious reasons. It wasn’t very scientific. In an age when baseball information is prevalent, we should do the same with the idea the Cubs are haunted.

The Cubs beat the Giants in four games, won two by one run, won the last with the kind of turnaround that makes sports so captivating. For eight innings the Cubs seemed incapable, and then in the last they were liberated.

It was like reading or watching Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution. For two hours all the evidence points to one outcome, and then in the end, it logically reverses into something unforeseen. The ninth inning undid the first eight Tuesday night, unfolding batter by batter so easily that you were surprised you didn’t see it coming.

It’s not that anyone should have, but that it could have. The Giants led baseball with 30 blown saves this year and blew nine ninth-inning leads. Why wouldn’t they blow another in Game 4?

Neither Wilson Contreras’ game-tying single nor Javier Baez’s winner was hit hard, but each was struck. Contrast that to the bottom of the ninth when Aroldis Chapman struck out the side. Not much chance of any of those balls sneaking through.

It was the kind of rally that ignited talk of it being the Cubs’ year. There’s a good chance of that for a simple reason: they’re the best team.

The best team doesn’t always win, of course, and according to Filip Bondy’s New York Times story last month, rarely does. Only four times since 1995 has the team with the best record won and only two of the eight teams which have won 100 games have.

But the Cubs aren’t only the best team, but a dominant one, too. They won 103 games this year, eight more than the next-best team (Texas and Washington, 95). Last year’s Cardinals won 100 games, but only two more than the Pirates. This year’s Cubs outscored opponents by 252 runs, or 101 more than any other NL team (Washington) or 68 more than any other AL team (Boston. OK, bad example). Last year’s Cardinals outscored opponents by only 122 runs, just 21 more than any NL team (Pittsburgh) and 99 less than any AL team (Toronto).

It’s the largest run differential since the 2001 Mariners, who won 116 games and outscored opponents by 300 runs (and lost to the Yankees in the ALCS in five games, so maybe that’s not the best example, either. But the 2001 Mariners had a starting rotation of Freddy Garcia, Aaron Sele, Jamie Moyer, Paul Abbott and John Halama. Does that sound like a 116-win team? The 2016 Cubs might hold up better).

The Cubs will play the winner of Thursday’s Dodgers-Nationals Game 5, and they’re capable of losing to either. The Cubs will err. They’ll fail to score a runner from third with less than two out or have runners thrown out on the bases. They’ll make mistakes.

It’s no curse, though, any more than the Giants’ even-year championships were a boon. It’s baseball.

 

 

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