It’s official: The Chicago Cubs are once again in the playoffs, for the second time in two years. The question on Cubs’ fans’ minds is, “Why do the Cubs play with our emotions? Why go up to the brink again only to lose it all?” With two disappointing playoff berths this decade already, Cubs fans have earned the right to be skeptical. But here are 5 reasons that this year will be different from 2003 and 2007:
1. Starting pitching. The four-man rotation of Zambrano, Dempster, Harden and Lilly is vastly improved from the 2007 rotation of Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, and Marquis. Ryan Dempster is having a career year in his return to starting, and new addition Rich Harden has been ridiculously effective in the National League. The 2008 incarnations of Zambrano and Lilly are crazy good. If there’s any weakness, it’s Zambrano’s recent flirtations with injury and hot/cold streaks (8 runs in two innings following a no-hitter?). Marquis will, once again, be the odd man out. Even if Lou keeps him on the roster as the long man in the bullpen, don’t expect him to return to the Cubs in 2009.
2. Outfield defense. The additions of Fukudome, Johnson, and Edmonds have given the Cubs their best outfield defense in recent memory. Gone are the weakspots of Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou (2003) and Jacque Jones and Cliff Floyd (2007). Soriano, the one weak spot, has made some rifle throws to the plate for assists this year even.
3. Geovany Soto. It’s impossible to underestimate the impact of Soto’s offense and pitch-calling in 2008, but let’s just say the days of Paul Bako (2003) and Jason Kendall (2007) are ancient history. A good-hitting catcher is like getting an extra position player on a team in the line-up.
4. This is the year. There’s nothing superstitious or magical about the 100-year drought, but the comparison to the championship teams of 1907-08 are uncanny. The last time the Cubs won back-to-back division titles–and here we are again. The Cubs have been drawing comparisons to historic Cubs’ teams all year: Most wins by a certain point in the season, best record in baseball latest in the season…the list goes on. The players are also having historic years for individual players, from Z’s no-hitter to Geovany Soto being the first rookie starting catcher for the NL in the All-Star Game.
5. Ryan Dempster promised Cubs fans in spring training that the Cubs would make it to the World Series. He wouldn’t lie to us, would he? “I think we are going to win the World Series. I really do,” Dempster said. “Enough of all the … you know the curse this, the curse that, the goat this, the black cat, the 100 years, whatever it is. We’re a better team than we were last year, I truly believe. And last year we made it to the playoffs.”
6. No Florida Marlins in the playoffs, and possibly no Diamondbacks. Fewer memories to re-live…even though…
7. …the past is the past. In April 2008, Moisés Alou was quoted as saying, “Everywhere I play, even now, people still yell, ‘Bartman! Bartman!’ I feel really bad for the kid….You know what the funny thing is? I wouldn’t have caught it, anyway.” Forget the goats and the black cats and the rest of the hocus pocus. “Not one person here believes in any of that (stuff) about a curse or a hex or garbage like that,” GM Jim Hendry said on September 20th.
8. There’s no room on the rooftop sign for a third digit. The sign on the rooftop building on Sheffield Avenue currently reads “AC 006299.” That stands for Anno Catuli (Year of the Cubs in Latin) and the number of years since they have won a division, an NL pennant and a World Series. There’s no room for triple digits, folks.
9. Brad Lidge of the Phillies. With the Astros, Lidge was prone to blow it in the big situations in the playoffs, even after pitching lights-out throughout the regular season. This year will be no different, should the Cubs match up with the Phillies in the playoffs.
10. Nobody will be able to touch Carlos Marmol in the World Series. Late relief is where WS games are won and lost, and Marmol will likely be facing A.L. opponents for the first time. The advantage will go to the pitcher in a first-time matchup, and the A.L. team won’t get enough at-bats against Marmol over a seven-game series to touch him up. Wood’s been around longer, and doesn’t have the electric stuff that Marmol has, but expect him to throw the final pitch of the World Series.