playoffs 2016: Cubs advance to NLCS, where chance often trumps talent

So, you’re rooting for the Blue Jays to win the World Series? Front-runner.With the Cubs knocking off the Giants in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday night, ending the reign of even-year magic in San Francisco, there are five teams left in the baseball playoffs. The most recent World Series winner among the group: Toronto in 1993. MORE: 14 playoff odditiesAlso alive are the Dodgers, last victorious in 1988; Cleveland, which hasn’t won since 1948; the Nationals, looking for their first championship in franchise history and Washington’s first since the 1924 Senators. And then there are the Cubs, baseball’s best team this year and looking to end a 108-year title drought. The anniversary of the deciding game of the 1908 World Series, won by Orval Overall with a three-hit shutout, is Friday, and the Cubs will spend it in Chicago, preparing for Game 1 of the NLCS, their opponent to be determined Thursday night when the Dodgers and Nationals play a decisive Game 5 of their division series.The Cubs appeared headed for their own Game 5 for most of Tuesday night, stymied for eight innings by Matt Moore before one final meltdown by the 2016 Giants bullpen, five relievers combining to give up four runs and end San Francisco’s season.MORE: Javy Baez shows how ridiculous he is in the fieldSo instead of 48 hours or so of fretting about a 103-win season coming crashing down, people in Chicago can spend a few days worrying about other terrifying collapses.“Donald Trump welcomes world champion Cubs to White House” is a plausible news item in 2017. What world are we living in?— (((Jesse Spector))) (@jessespector) May 4, 2016Well, that one seems less plausible with each passing tweet. How implausible?A Chicago Cubs vs Cleveland Indians World Series is now slightly more likely than a Trump presidency.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 12, 2016For the record, FiveThirtyEight rated the chances of a Trump presidency at 16.5 percent late Tuesday night. A Chicago-Cleveland showdown, given that both teams will have home-field advantage in the League Championship Series, definitely is more likely than that.But here’s where baseball diverges from politics: In baseball, there’s a lot more volatility than there is in political polling.MORE: Each team’s worst postseason memory“I think that the system is built for the best team having a chance to lose,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said with a laugh before Game 4 in San Francisco, when he was asked if baseball’s playoff system wasn’t built for the best team to win. “I think that’s what it is. And it’s fine. I think it’s — listen, I’ve benefited as a manager with my teams being the second wild card and getting involved in the dance. Beautiful. … But at the end of the day, I don’t — I never take anyone lightly. But in five games? Anything can happen, man.”In seven games, too, as the Cubs found out last year, when they were the second wild card, beat Pittsburgh to get to the division series, then ran into a Daniel Murphy buzzsaw in the NLCS against the Mets, who had won the National League East with a record seven games worse than the Cubs.And in a five-game series this year, even after winning the first two, the Cubs were on a razor’s edge. They took a 13-inning loss on Monday night, and trailed by three runs in the ninth inning Tuesday. Johnny Cueto loomed as the pitcher against them for a decisive Game 5. It would have been a breathtaking comeback for the Giants and collapse by the Cubs had San Francisco taken the series, but it would not have been a surprise.MORE: Must-see NLDS photosThere are no October surprises in baseball, only good teams playing against each other in short series that can turn on a dime. The last time the Cubs won the World Series, the United States used what was known as the Barber dime. The last time the Cubs won the pennant, the dime had the goddess Liberty on what was known as the Mercury dime. As goo

d as the Cubs are now, if there’s anything to be learned from what just happened in San Francisco, it’s that their chances of getting to the Fall Classic, against whomever they face, might just be equivalent to tossing a dime in the air and seeing if it lands on Franklin Roosevelt.