The Chicago Cubs are sitting in a playoff spot as they enter their final two series of the season this week, and fans are beginning to figure out which opponent the Cubs could face if they reach the postseason.
As things stand now, things are still fairly open in that regard, but two teams are certainly more likely than the others. The first is the Milwaukee Brewers, who are just one win away from clinching a Central Division title and ensuring home-field advantage in the wild card round.
The other is the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a five-game lead in the race for the top wild card spot, and would also host a series if they were to secure that berth.
So, the real question is this: which team would the Cubs rather face if they were to make the postseason?
Here is a breakdown of the potential opponents the Cubs could go up against.
The Cubs went 1-5 against the Phillies in six games this season. Their first series in Philadelphia saw them lose two-of-three, but they were only outscored 15-14 thanks to two blowout games, with each team earning one victory in those contests.
The Phillies later swept the Cubs at Wrigley Field to take the season-series.
In terms of individual performances, the Cubs really had only two players who stood out offensively against the Phillies. Cody Bellinger batted .364 against the Phillies this season, while Christopher Morel led the club with three home runs against Philadelphia. Dansby Swanson, used to the Phillies from his years in Atlanta, hit a pair of home runs.
Another key in a potential series would be the ongoing performances of some of the team’s key players. The Phillies, as a team, have hit for way more power in the second half of the season, with a boost of 41 points to their collective slugging percentage.
Kyle Schwarber, who has 45 home runs on the season, has also been reaching base a lot more often, bosting his on-base percentage by 73 points since the All-Star break.
Bryce Harper only hit three home runs in the first half, but has hit 17 in the second half. Trea Turner has a significantly-higher batting average in the second half as well, and has also hit 16 home runs in 64 games.
The lone exception to the second-half hitting surge for the Phillies seems to be Nick Castellanos, whose on-base percentage has dipped by 69 points over his first half performance .
While the Phillies’ offense could give Cubs’ fans pause, one other factor could be at play too. If the Cubs were to play the Phillies, the winner of the series would then take on the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series, rather than the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both teams have had remarkable runs, but the Braves’ 2023 season has been among the best offensive seasons in baseball history, and as a result they own a nearly-25% chance of winning the World Series, according to FanGraphs.
While the Phillies have largely succeeded on the strength of their hitting in the second half of the season, the Brewers have gotten some remarkable progress from their pitching staff.
Hitters are batting 32 points lower against the Brewers in the second half of the season, and their collective slugging percentage has dropped by nearly 50 points.
Devin Williams has a 1.16 ERA and a 15.04 K/9 innings rate in the second half of the season, and both Abner Uribe and Hoby Milner have a 1.01 ERA since the All-Star break, giving the Brewers one of the scariest bullpens in baseball heading into the postseason.
Pitching has largely been the driving force behind Milwaukee’s success late in the year, but so has the play of catcher William Contreras, who quietly has become one of the top-hitting catchers in the game. He’s batting .314 since the All-Star break with an OPS of .882, slugging eight home runs and 23 doubles to go along with 44 RBI’s.
The Cubs have had quite a bit of offensive success against the Brewers, evenly-splitting the first 10 games against Milwaukee this season.
Swanson is batting .389 against the Brewers with a home run and four RBI’s, while Ian Happ has a .303 average and two home runs against Milwaukee.
Bellinger is 11-for-39 against the Crew, with a home run and eight RBI’s.
The one Cubs hitter to struggle against the Brewers? Nico Hoerner, who is batting .191 in 46 plate appearances this season.
So….Who’s the Better Option?
Both the Brewers and Phillies would be favored over the Cubs in a best-of-three series, but the Cubs may lean toward Milwaukee, even if it means facing a divisional rival.
The potential of having thousands of Cubs fans packed into American Family Field is certainly alluring, as is the idea of being able to size up the Brewers’ relievers up close in the final series of the season.
Finally, the chance of playing the Dodgers rather than the Braves in the NLDS tips the scale even more toward the Brewers.
Either way, the Cubs will of course still need to get into the playoffs in the first place, but having meaningful baseball in late September is exactly what fans, and the team, wanted all season long.
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