Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dream deferred

There will be no Windy City World Series this year. There will be no Chicago Cubs in the World Series this year. Swings Both Ways will, true to form, still root for the White Sox to at least get our city a postseason win today, but let's have a moment of silence for a Cubs team that was darn good, but not good enough, at least not in their final three games.

"How can we not be cursed?" That's what one sad Cubs fan said in today's Trib. It is hard in the early hours of Sunday morning (Yes, the glorious sun has risen again...) to think about the last two seasons and postseasons and not feel that way, but after the hangover fades, remember this: The wait and the expectation for a championship carries no value whatsoever, so forget about it. You are entitled to nothing. Your willingness to vent your misery so openly and dramatically only gives the gawkers reason to look--it cannot affect anything that happens on the field. Enjoy what happens on the field for as long as it is enjoyable. If you believe in anything, believe in the moment--and not that the departed souls of Cubs fans crowding heaven will light the way to the promised land. Being great in the regular season doesn't guarantee anything. A five-game play-off series is filled with pressure unlike anything else in the regular season and postseason. There is little time to execute, little time to make up for mistakes.

The Cubs were swept out out of the NLDS and the postseason 3-1 by the Dodgers, a Dodgers team that looks almost nothing like it did July 31. This not only speaks to the addition of Manny (who is like a dreadlocked version of Roy Hobbs, hitting, as The Commish noted in a text last night, at will) but also Casey Blake, the return of Rafael Furcal (who played like an MVP earlier this year before getting hurt), not to mention the replacement of Jeff Kent with the speedier, craftier, better-fielding Angel Berroa/Blake DeWitt combo. There was also an unheralded career .303 hitter named James Loney, who Cubs pitchers might have forgotten about amid the pressure of dealing with Manny.

Yes, the Dodger are good, but the Cubs made a lot of mistakes. They made six errors in three games. There were also mistakes that didn't officially count as errors, but were errors--Mighty Mite's poor throw from the cut-off post last night that allowed Manny to score when he should have been out with the score stuck at 1-0; A-Ram's apparent poor tag of Russell Martin sliding into 3rd base earlier that inning (it may have been a bad call, but waiting for Martin to slide into the tag only creates an opportunity for a bad call). Had those two things not happened, the game remains 0-0. Still, Rich Harden didn't have his best stuff.

Offensively, the Cubs came up short throughout the series, straight through the entire game last night. Hideki Kuroda is very good, always providing very limited opportunity for homers and walks (as the Cubs could attest from being shut-out by him earlier this year), but he was not as good last night. The Cubs managed six hits off him (and eight for the night, more than the Dodgers for the second time in this NLDS), and forced two walks but couldn't come through with run-scoring hits (the only run coming off the bat of Sub-Cub Daryle Ward with two outs in the 8th inning). D-Lee hit .545 (!) in this series and was 3-4 last night, but Soriano and A-Ram aseemed unable to hit in key situations in all three games, and Soto didn;t have ROTY-like numbers in the postseason. Soriano might be the biggest disappointment, making a lot of Cubs fans yearn for a real lead-off hitter. Ultimately, the team that had more five-runs-plus innings during the regular season than any other could not manage to score five runs in a game during the postseason.

The Cubs were the winningest team in the National League this year, and if you want to believe in fate, then that fact may have fated the Cubs to lose: Phil Rogers points out in today's Trib that nine times in the last 14 years, the winningest team in its league has failed to advance past the first round.

I can't argue with a lot of the choices Lou made. I do wish he was a bit more urgent to change pitchers in a few situations, and to bring in pinch-hitters at other times, but perhaps all of that only comes from hindsight. It is pretty bad that the best Cubs pitcher in the final month of the season, Ted Lilly, didn't make it into this series at all. How did that happen? Was Lou afraid he would throw his glove? I wonder if he could have made a difference starting Game 2--though Zammy wasn't bad, Lilly's gritty tough-guy act on the mound might have calmed the bumbling Cubs fielders more than Zammy's outward fretfulness--or maybe relieving early in Game 1 when it was obvious Dempster was stumbling. If the Cubs have a pitcher that good on the bench in a five-game series on don't use him, maybe the lesson is each game needs to be managed like it's do-or-die. Bring that starter in the moment the first guy shows he doesn't have his stuff. Coaches and players from all teams hate to use that phrase--do-or-die--but maybe it's the only way this sort of Cubs team can gain the play-off edge. It will be another year before we have the chance to find out.

So, there is still another Chicago team in the postseason, and they are playing at home today with a decent chance to stave off being swept like the Cubs. The Sox seem to do OK in do-or-die games lately. Maybe they can still keep part of the SBW dream alive.

1 comment:

Paul Reis said...

First, I wanted to congratulate you on this blog. I work with someone you know quite well and she told me I might be interested, so I check in from time to time and today seemed like a good a day as any to post something.

I appreciate your thesis statement—you like both teams. Contrary to common wisdom, there are many people who agree with you and cheer for whichever team is good that year. Most years, neither team rises to the standard; this year, thankfully, both teams did.

I “swing” only one way (south) and so my baseball season remains alive, if only for a matter of hours. In my head, the play-in games were my playoffs, so the rest is a bonus.

I’ll be interested to see what sort of fallout there is in the Cubs’ off-season, specifically:
1. Will there be buyer’s remorse regarding the Piniella contract extension? Zero-for-the-postseason would have been acceptable during most eras of Cubs’ history, but will it be tolerated now?
2. What do you do about that outfield? How many starters will come back? How many should? They won’t ask me, but if they did, I’d find a place to ship Soriano for 10 cents on the dollar, throw Pie in center, sign a free agent left fielder, and put Fukudome back in right (I’d take him on the south side in a second).
3. When does the new buyer get confirmed and how does that affect next year’s team?

Keep up the good work with the blog and I’ll be checking in again soon.