LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 20: Chicago Cubs fans cheer after the Cubs 8-4 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Narrative laden NLCS detracts from the real thing

A quick listen to the broadcast of this year’s National League Championship series reveals a not necessarily shocking, but still overwhelming reliance on certain narratives in order to generate and facilitate discussion. Whether Joe Buck or the studio crew, this group loves themselves a good (if often times nonsensical) narrative. Like, they want to marry narratives. Not that it’s only limited to the broadcast and nationally-syndicated sportswriters, as the countless narratives continue to fester throughout the country in spite of what is actually happening on the field.

In what has essentially devolved into a Greatest Hits of the narratives, broadcasts and writers have touched on all of the classics:

  • “Jon Lester still can’t throw to first or hold a runner within 1,000 feet of a base.”
  • “Hey, let’s make some more jokes about when Steve Bartman’s life being ruined.”
  • Or, my favorite, “Here’s a historical, but completely irrelevant statistic about either team’s performance in a given situation.”

We could even toss in Joe Buck’s over-reliance on Clayton Kershaw as a discussion piece. Kershaw has appeared once in five games. Yet, he’s a consistent point of discussion to the point of exhaustion, regardless of any event taking place on the field. In that sense, at least there’s some validity to regular discussion, as the big lefty is a generational talent. In nearly every other sense, though, it’s become a monotonous process to listen to any sort of commentary related to the series.

And this is only the NLCS, not even taking into account the other seven series that have transpired and been completed to this point, which would cause the number of narratives to increase exponentially.

Here’s a simplified breakdown undermining each of those:

  • The long and short of the Lester thing is that he clearly has the yips in trying to throw to first, but he also overcomes that with low traffic on the basepaths (1.02 WHIP during the regular season) and a superb defense behind him.
  • Steve Bartman shouldn’t even be a thing at this point, if anything because the media is almost exclusively responsible for destroying any semblance of normalcy in his life. He’s not responsible for 2003. There are far more factors at play. Leave the guy alone.
  • If the historical results were of any significance, the Cubs had already lost the series when down 2-1.

There we go. Narratives gone.

The narratives themselves range from only slightly relevant in nature to downright nonsense. It’s not even a matter of whether the narratives are interesting or not, but the fact that they are literally taking away from what is taking place on the field. Major League Baseball is being undermined in their attempt to grow the game by two factors within this NLCS: the fact that any game involving the Dodgers seemingly takes four hours and the persistent clinging to of narratives by broadcasts, writers, and, subsequently, the fans who buy into all of it.

In obsessing over extraneous details, fans aren’t getting to experience what truly makes this a special NLCS matchup. Clinging to lifeless narratives ignores that is legitimately interesting about it. So let’s take a moment beyond those to identify the real baseball things worth discussing:

  • Dodger Pitching: Yes, Clayton Kershaw is a once-in-a-generation type of pitcher. He’s the specter that still lingers and provides a sense of foreboding for those backing the Cubs, despite being up 3-2 with two home games on the horizon. Even if he’s been discussed at longer-than-Pedro-Baez between pitches by Joe Buck, it’s almost justified to an extent. But it even goes beyond Kershaw. Rich Hill is a fantastic redemption story and it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he pitched as well as he did back in Game 3. Julio Urias didn’t fare particularly well, but he’s an arm with tremendously high upside and only 20 years old to boot. Then there’s Kenley Jansen, perhaps the best closer in the game, that has been nearly unhittable in this series. If they’re able to pull off a pair of wins in Chicago, it’ll be this trio leading them there.
  • Corey Seager: This might be the best young shortstop in a host of rising, young, potentially elite shortstops breaking out this year. While he hasn’t experienced a multitude of success beyond the first inning, you still get a sense that he could do something huge for Los Angeles at any given moment. For a player this young and with this little experience to strike this kind of fear into opposing fans is extraordinary.
  • Cub Pitching: Jon Lester gets attention when runners are on, but in forcing the yips down our collective throats what broadcasts and writers have largely ignored is the fact that he’s been a damn fine pitcher in the postseason. He grinded his way through seven quality innings to get that 3-2 series lead on Thursday. Kyle Hendricks is the breakout pitcher of 2016, and Jake Arrieta is coming off of a Cy Young-winning season. Toss in terrible human being Aroldis Chapman and you have a staff that, on the whole, could easily match and probably eclipse the skill set of the LA group.
  • Cub Young Offense: Anthony Rizzo. Addison Russell. Kris Bryant. Willson Contreras. It seems like the bulk of the attention that the former two received was due to their struggles more than anything else, with Bryant and Contreras at least providing steady production at the plate, albeit with the latter in smaller sample sizes. But with this group having woke up entirely, they’re absolutely worth developing a narrative around. Few teams, if any, in history have assembled a core this good and this young. It’s absurd.
  • Javier Baez: A category all to himself, Baez has made the 2016 postseason his official coming out party. He’s provided offense at key moments in these playoffs and has been sensational with the glove. It’s not even a matter of the tools and the adjustments. It’s the flare that he plays the game with. He’s so smooth and so confident that it’s an absolute blast to watch. You want to cling to a narrative that’s going to bring along new fans? Javy’s your answer.

And yet, we continually hear about Lester’s yips. Or Bartman. Or history. Not that Kershaw, and Hill, and the Cubs offense haven’t been mentioned. Obviously they’re important elements that haven’t gone completely unnoticed. But it’s almost pushed to the side in favor of unimaginative narratives. They become secondary in favor of whatever the broadcasts or writers want to push. What point do we have to reach before we can learn to embrace the excellent product on the field and dismiss the significantly less important elements? Casual fans don’t need Bartman or yips. Curses aren’t real. Hell, they may not even need history. Casual fans want and need Javy. And Seager. And Kershaw. And Bryant. And the other supreme talents remaining on the National League side. So let’s shift the mentality a bit, eh?

About Randy Holt

Spending his days as an English teacher, Randy spends his afternoons, nights, and weekends as a writer on the Bloguin Network, as well as SB Nation. He is a staff writer for both Puck Drunk Love and The Outside corner, as well as Second City Hockey and Beyond the Box Score on SB Nation, showcasing his love for both hockey and baseball, as well as run-on sentences. A Chicago native (and Phoenix resident), he is an avid Game of Thrones viewer/reader and lover of red meat.