Giants Feel on Even Footing With Cubs Heading Into Game 1 of NLDS

CHICAGO -- Joe Maddon wants his players to focus on themselves, which is probably a good idea. The Cubs are, after all, a team coming off a 103-win regular season.

But the Cubs did all watch the wild card game Wednesday, and Maddon spent a chunk of his Thursday in scouting meetings. He was surprised by one thing he found.

"Looking at their record, I didn't even realize the last time we played they were all one-run games," he said. "They're good. They know how to do this. I have a ton of respect for Boch and I've known him a long time. They're formidable. It should be interesting."

On paper, the teams are separated by 16 wins. The Cubs were the best team in baseball wire-to-wire. The Giants needed a four-game winning streak just to reach the postseason, and a wild card shutout to get to Wrigley Field.

In a champagne-soaked clubhouse, though, the Giants kept looking back at that September series. They were at a low point, with a bullpen in shambles and a lineup collectively slumping. But they won 3-2 in the third game and lost the other three games 5-4, 2-1 and 3-2. The Giants also took two of three meetings at AT&T Park in May. 

"We're confident," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "I don't think it matters who we're going up against. We're a confident group of guys and we like our team. Those series, we played back and forth (with the Cubs). We both have good pitching staffs and solid, deep lineups. It's two good managers, also.

"I would say other than the win column, we're pretty even."

The Cubs echoed that sentiment Thursday. As the rain fell at Wrigley Field, one Cub after another showed respect for an opponent that has gotten hot at the right time.

"They've been on the biggest stage and (there) are a lot of rings over there in that clubhouse," catcher David Ross said. "They've been on the biggest stage and succeeded."

The Giants showed their ability Wednesday, but the sailing wasn't as smooth a day later. The team flight from New York took off late, causing the Giants to spent over two hours in traffic on the way from O'Hare International Airport to Wrigley. 

The Cubs, on the other hand, have been trying to burn through their week off. Jake Arrieta played golf. Dexter Fowler said he slept a lot. 

Come Friday, the lights will go back on, and Maddon expects intensity from the start.

"At the end of the day, man, they're not afraid," he said of the Giants. "To me, that's the number one requirement."

--- As he always does, Maddon filled the quote sheet. He said Jon Lester got Game 1 because "there's a meritocracy involved." He called Johnny Cueto a "modern-day Luis Tiant" and said the Giants rotation is "thick, man." Asked about his three-catcher roster, he noted, "I've been on a team where you don't like any of your catchers and now I like three."

Maddon saved his best for a description of Bochy: "He's a cowboy. He'll do anything. Whenever you manage against a cowboy, it's always interesting."

--- Dexter Fowler set off a flurry of rumors when he attended a Warriors game in the heart of the offseason with the Giants still searching for a center fielder. Fowler said he lived in San Francisco over the winter because he was working with Barry Bonds, his mentor. He briefly negotiated with the Giants, but they soon signed Denard Span. 

As for that Warriors game, Fowler started laughing when it was brought up. He knew it caused a stir.

"You know what's funny, I was sitting four seats from Larry (Baer). But we didn't speak," Fowler said. "Everyone thought I was there with my agent, but it was my financial advisor."

--- Arrieta said he won't make a showdown with Madison Bumgarner in Game 3 bigger than it is. "I'm not, like, licking my lips because Bumgarner is on the other side," he said. "Whether it's Cueto or Samardzija or Matt Moore, those guys are all good. In big situations like this, those guys are all going to be competing at their peak."

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