Friday, October 3, 2008

It can't get much worse

It can't get much worse for the Cubs, and I mean that quite literally: If they lose again, there are no more games left. What will happen in Game 3? Will Harden's arm fall off? Will the Cubs suffer sun stroke from being out in the field so long? Will Piniella and Sinatro get lost on the L.A. freeways, end up in San Diego instead, and decide not to come back?

The Cubs aren't that cursed. They aren't cursed at all. They just play like it. Two years running, they have played in October like the weight (or wait) of the world is upon them--and is upon anyone who chooses to feel it (somebody should hire a hypnotist, not a priest). Piniella was right when he said Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS were the two worst games the Cubs played all year. They were the two worst since Game 3 of the NLDS last year, when they completely rolled over after losing Games 1 and 2.

So, were the 2003 Cubs that good? They won six play-off games and were really close to winning a seventh, losing the NLCS to a team with a better record that eventually won the World Series pretty handily. Is true you need to play your way right into the play-offs to keep your edge? That is only part of the recipe, of course, as the 1998 Cubs and this year's Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox will tell you. The other part is--I don't know, but it's roughly got something to do with just playing like you know you can.

The Cubs dropped and booted four balls in Game 2, becoming the first team ever to post four errors in an NLDS game. Zambrano, who we were so worried about, was actually pretty good, striking out seven and giving up 3 earned runs. Unfortunately, the Dodgers scored a total of 10 runs--seven while Zammy was in the mound--in winning 10-3. And let's not let Zammy totally off the hook for this one--he's got to step up after errors and minimize the damage; instead, he maximized it.

The Cubs are hitting OK, not great, but enough to score a few runs late in this one. De-Ro, despite committing perhaps the most signifiant error of the four, had two RBI for the second game in a row. Here's some positive thinking: If the Cubs come back and win the NLDS, maybe De-Ro will take MVP honors. D-Lee had two hits (and an error), and Edmonds had an RBI (and showed his age in the field by taking eons to reach a couple balls). The weak spots in the offense: Fukie is done after going 0 for 8 in the series so far, and I was surprised Piniella even started him in this one. he at least might have hit for him after it became clear last night's game would not be one in which pristine fielding was much valued. Theriot (error) also came up empty last night, and Soriano is now 1 for 9 in Gmes 1 and 2. Al-So, of course, is not your typical lead-off hitter, which is never more apparent than the games in which the Cubs just need to scratch out a few runs. True, he won some games for the Cubs this year with his bat, but against Dodger pitching, it has been a liability. By the way, with Mighty Mite likely to start in Game 3, I wouldn't mind seeing Reed Johnson, suddenly a forgotten man, in Game 3, too.

There is both much more to say, and not much else to say. We'll go with the latter: Harden pitches tomorrow night for the Cubs. He proved to be a great second-half acquisition, though he has struggled lately. He's 1-2 in the postseason, though he only started one of those games, I believe. Again, positive thinking: Rich Harden in a pitcher's park against a lot of hitters who haven't seen him (Manny is 1 for 8, 1 HR; Casey Blake is 0 for 1; Nomar hitless as far as I could tell) is a good thing. The Dodger's Kuroda doesn't walk a lot of guys, so the Cubs will need to hit. Getting away from the scene of the crime might help, and if they win Game 3, Lilly, their best pitcher in the last month, will go in Game 4.

What else? The Cubs' regular season record was 13 wins better than the Dodgers' record, but this is such a different Dodgers team than they played earlier in the year. The Cubs have been bad, but L.A. has been pretty darn good.

And after all that, there's still the White Sox to talk about. They had me feeling good all the way until the bottom of the 3rd inning. They eventually lost 6-4. Actually, concern about Javy Vazquez starting this game was tremendously mitigated by a quick 1st inning, and a 2nd inning in which he let the lead-off man homer, but then powered through the next two guys with strikeouts. 4 Ks in 2 IP kinda sounded like the Vaz of 2007, but there is a Vaz difference (you know I'd go there, eventually) between the Vaz of 2007 and the one we've seen in 2008, especially lately.

DeWayne Wise came up with another surprising homer, this one a three-run shot that put the Sox up 3-1 in the top of the 3rd. I was listening on the radio at the time, and though the Trop crowded quieted a bit, it sounded to me like there were a fair number of Sox fans at this game. Could the Sox really steal this one? It would change eveything if they did, but alas, the 2008 version of Vazquez showed up and left in the 5th inning behind 6-3. Clayton Richard relieved and was stellar, striking out five in 3.1 scoreless IP. It probably earned him more time on the mound if the Sox go a little further, and went a long way toward staking a claim on rotation spot next year. Vaz, on the other handed, pitched himself out of this series. If it goes to five games, expect Buehrle to get the ball again.

Buehrle will go in Game 2, which is something to feel good about. The Sox hitters also have to deal with a lefty, Scott Kazmir, who can be unhittable when he is not pretty hittable. If Kazmir wavers or comes off a bit nervous, Sox righty hitters like Paulie, The Missile and the O.C. may do well in this one--sounds like anotehr game that could be stolen. The offensive attack was not great in Game 1, but not really lacking. Paulie came up with a later homer. The big moment of failure was when the Sox had the bases loaded with one out in the 7th inning. Grant Balfour, who was amazing all year, by the way, struck out Uribe. Then, the next batter, the O.C., seemed to get in a shouting match with Balfour even though the count started in his favor, 1-0. Orlando Cabrera is intense, but one thing you don't want to do with the Rays, even if Balfour started it, is feed their fighting instinct. They are young, but not in the cute puppy sense. There are some pretty brash brawlers over there. A pumped Balfour struck out the O.C. to end the threat, but there was a moment even then when it looked like both benches could empty.

Our teams are not making SBW look very good. We believed--and still believe, because it is still in fact possible--that both our Chicago basebal teams could make the World Series this year. They already have made history, both making the postseason in the same year for the first time in 102 years, but we want more. So far, their attempts have failed, and they are 0-3. As Mrs. SBW is fond of saying when the Cubs are losing, "We need runs, bitches."

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