And So It Is

Three days away…Wrigley Field…Game 1, NLDS.  

Dodgers.  Cubs.  
Awesome.
161 regular season games, full of exciting drama, big hits, breakthroughs, milestones, career-best seasons and a long list of other highlights in this 2/3’s of the 2008 Cubs’ season.  
In the first third, Spring Training, the organization found itself coming off a successful run at a  division championship the year before, which was unfortunately followed up by a not so successful sweep in the first round of the playoffs by Arizona.  That wasn’t how it was supposed to go.  No one in the front office, the dugout, or the bleacher seats thought the Cubs were built to be swept in the NLDS.  But that is exactly what happened and for an organization short on opportunities to claim another World Series title, one that they’d waited for nearly a century to obtain, everyone in the front office knew that there were some serious decisions that needed to be made.  These decisions made up a huge chunk of a dramatic offseason and a Spring that included four key storylines: the rotation, the closer, the outfield and the “second baseman”.  
Come Spring Training one the key issues was figuring out who our five starters were going to be when the games counted starting March 31st.  And there was a great battle to figure out who those five would be.  Some guys came out of the gates quickly to prove themselves to Piniella and company and stayed the course.  Ohers had an up and down Spring and some were a huge disappointment.  Z and LIlly were no-brainers, but the rest were up in the air.  Would the old favorite Lieber make the squad?  What about Marquis?  Can he even bring anything worthwhile to the table this year?  Or what about Dempster?  Should we really consider our closer, Ryan Dempster as a starter this year?  It would make room for Wood to potentially become the closer if the organization so chose.  All very important question that were being bounced around the clubhouse, media and fan base.  In the end, Zambrano and Lilly were teamed up with Dempster, Marquis and Rich Hill.  
Come the regular season, Zambrano and Lilly were pretty much what you’d expect but Dempster was amazing at home.  One of the greatest home field pitchers in the game developed in Dempster as he became a guy to truly challenge Z for the ace role, especially when you’re talking consistency and reliability at Wrigley.  Hill faded fast as it became more painful for fans to watch him and thankfully, the organization found a way to land one of baseball’s greatest steals, in a trade for Rich Harden.  This group would become one of the best rotations in baseball by season’s end.
The closer situation was interesting from Spring on as well.  Simply making such a huge decision as taking your closer and bringing him into a starter role, one he hadn’t held in years is news enough.  But to have a competition in Spring to see who would replace him…and to add to it that one of the contenders is fan-favorite, uber-talented yet often-injured Kerry Wood, made it one of the biggest stories of the Spring, spilling into the regular season.  The trio of Howry, Marmol and Wood pushed each other all Spring for the job.  The organization seemed to be hoping, pulling, pushing for Wood to grab the job as they gave him many opportunities to step up and grab it, even one instance where after an injury they figured well let’s just see if he can successfully pitch two days in a row and that will pretty much seal the deal.  Two days in a row?  I was thinking we’re going to need our closer a lot more than two days in a row (hopefully).  Maybe that wasn’t the best final test to give him the job.  I always wanted Marmol to land the job as I thought he had had the best Spring.  As it turned out, the job did go to Wood and he had an All-Star season with the ninth inning all his, one of the best in the game.  And the eighth belonged to Marmol.  You couldn’t ask for a more powerful late inning duo as they proved to be a key element to the Cubs clinching the Central for a second straight season.
And of course, you need great position players to back these pitchers up, right?  So then what to do about the outfield?  Aside from Soriano, nobody was a lock to land an outfield job with the Cubs.  Ok, maybe Fukudome.  But no one had ever seen him perform in a MLB game.  Sure, the Cubs had scouted him in some of the greatest international baseball there is, but still…he hadn’t faced MLB pitching on a regular basis.  While Fukudome was a pick up that excited millions of Cubs fans at the time, including myself, he was still an unproven (and expensive) commodity.  A virtual unknown.  He ended up with the right field gig and came out with a bang, hitting a double in his first MLB at-bat and then with a game tying three-un home run in the bottom of the ninth at Wrigley against the Brewers on Opening Day.  While his regular season’s first half made him a legitimate All-Star, for some reason the second half of the season saw Fukudome struggle his way to less playing time and even some time on the bench.  Pickups like Jim Edmonds (the most unlikely I’d say…he was a CARDINAL) and Reed Johnson proved to be huge difference makers in the outfield and the Cubs were able to send young, full of potential center fielder Pie to the minors for the Summer until late season call-ups.  It gave the organization a great record of wise decisions up front and then smooth strategic dealing when it was needed.
And of course, the second baseman.  Rumors, rumors, rumors.  Brian Roberts.  Mark DeRosa.  Mark DeRosa, Brian Roberts. Uma, Oprah.  Oprah, Uma.  Letterman’s joke went over like a fart in church (don’t think I like this analogy actually…I’ve heard people fart in church and it is rather funny) and who knows how this trade would have ended up in the Cubs Win/Loss columns.  Roberts would have lead off and although Soriano struggled here and there throughout the season, he ended up being an All-Star and a huge offensive catalyst for us.  DeRosa is more valuable a player than Roberts will ever be.  The things DeRosa does on the field and the amount of positions the guy can play….this team would not be where it is right now if it wasn’t for Mark DeRosa.  Thought I’d be okay with a trade in the Spring….really glad it didn’t happen looking back.
Which brings us, to looking forward.  On Wednesday, Game 1 of the NLDS kicks off.  Ryan Dempster, closer converted to starter with 17 wins this year will be on the mound, in the stadium where he dominated all year for the Cubs.  We’ll get the Dodgers first up and I think this is going to be one amazing series.  Joe Torre’s first post season with the Dodgers, alongside his former nemesis, Manny Ramirez.  The Dodgers are going to be a huge challenge for the Cubs and it’s going to come down to more of what got them here.  Great pitching, great management, great decisions…in fact, next to all of those ‘great’s, you can also include ‘timely’.  We find a way to continue our great and timely everything that we’ve managed to come up with in the Spring and Summer, then the last third of this season, the Fall could be a classic, in more ways than one.  GO CUBS GO!!!

Made Me Think

This video sparked the stream of conciousness that follows.  Please watch before reading.

http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/player.swf?mediaId=3610493

Historically, aside from all the wins and losses and eliminations and playoffs and naming of a World Series champion this year…going forward the record books and baseball landscape are going to look a bit different as they are about to lose two of their East coast mainstays, Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium.  One with simply a new building and one with not only a new building but a new name.  Depending on how things go this weekend, as of end of day Sunday, Shea Stadium will cease to exist as the home of the New York Mets.  As a kid who grew up on the East Coast, this is where I’ve seen most of the baseball games I’ve gone to.  When I went to the game the other night I couldn’t help but feel sad that this place was no longer going to exist.  You could tell fans around the ballpark were already thinking about the fact that Shea would no longer be around too. Hard not to with fans taking pictures for their own favorite memory spots inside and outside of the stadium, as well as the organization’s countdown to the final home game.  

There’s a certain vibe that can be felt in a ballpark. Some don’t exactly share the same amount of history as others do.  Either they haven’t been around as long or haven’t had the same amount of successful, memorable seasons as other teams have had in their ballparks.  Wrigley and Fenway will now be the last two remaining stadiums from the OLD days.  They are classics…historical landmarks in the fabric of the baseball society.  With every new cookie-cutter stadium that is built and named after some stupid cell phone company or bank, the closer we get to losing a large part of what has made baseball what it is today.  The venues that the game has been played in.  Think about it.  Some of you may have moved with your family at some time in your life.  Left the house that you grew up in.  Left the only home you and your family have ever known.  It’s a sad thing to go through.  I know because I’ve fought my family on them doing so for a long time now.  I’m sure eventually it would be best for my parents to move out of the house that is now a little too big for them and its been a little selfish on my part to request that they stay.  People say, “What’s the big deal?  It’s just a house.  You’ll still be family no matter where your parents live and regardless of whether you’ll be able to go back to the only home you’ve ever known or not, it’s about where your family is that makes a house a home, not the actual house itself”.  That may be true, but then why does it matter so much to so many that nothing does change and that you’re able to keep the same house forever?  It’s because that’s where all your history lives and breathes.  And as baseball fans, our fellow fans become our baseball family and our stadiums our baseball family’s home.  

Root for a team long enough and you don’t even need to know the people around you at the ball game.  Just the simple fact that you wear the same team colors and have laughed and cried at the same history of the team together is all that matters.  When it comes to being a baseball fan, that’s what matters.  The memories.  And the memories will always be there.  It just doesn’t feel the same though when you think about the fact that the tangible place in which those memories took place will be gone forever.  And for baseball fans that have had to go through this around the country, it’s a very sad thing.  Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium and every other ballpark that has been shut down over the years because it was simply to old and out of date to invest in and carry on, had fans that went through the same thing New York Yankees and New York Mets fans are going through now.  The memories live on but the tangible home of those memories soon to be lost forever.  That is a sad thing.  One of the biggest necessary evils of the game I suppose.  Let’s just hope Wrigley Field is never added to the list and that Cubs fans never have to experience this kind of loss.

wrigley field panoramic.png
The Cubs have the best record in the National League, are playing well, have already had a magical regular season and starting next Wednesday, start their postseason quest of becoming World Series Champions for the first time in 100 years.  Given all of that, even I’m surprised I was able to post a blog that feels like a giant downer.  Fact is, some losses hurt more than others…and while any kind of series loss would be painful for Cubs fans, after watching the video included above about the fire sale of memorabilia at Shea, the thought of the loss of Wrigley entered my mind and I couldn’t help but think that in this ‘anything is possible’ world of ours…no matter how much history the stadium has and how much love for the place fans have for it, Wrigley could eventually also go away.  And to not bring a World Series championship to Wrigley before that does happen…well, that just wouldn’t be right.  It’s been nearly 100 years since the last time the Cubs won it all.  With all that Wrigley means to the Cubs and its fans, and how much it is a part of the team and the club’s identity and history, I think its waited long enough to share in a championship season. It’s time Wrigley has a stadium full of Cubs players and Cubs fans cheering inside it after the final out of the World Series is recorded and the Cubs are World Champions once again…before something awful/corporate happens and that experience is no longer a possibility.
Less than a week until the first game of the NLDS at Wrigley.  Sunday night we’ll know who we’re playing.  And it can’t get here soon enough.  GO CUBS GO!!!
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Mets 7 – Hoffpauir 5

Final score: Mets 7, Cubs 6.  Will any of what occurred in the past four days matter come October?  Who are the Cubs going to play in the NLDS?  This race has been so entertaining, I don’t even want to be able to know the answer to that until after all the games end on Sunday.

Mets are hanging in there…Marlins are up next for them and they are no slouch.  Then again, they’re no Cubs either.  
3 games left.  Mets are behind the Phillies by 1 game in the East and tied with the Brewers for the Wild Card.  Again, tied for the Wild Card…three games left.
This is one of the greatest playoff positioning battles I’ve ever seen going into the final weekend of a season.  All three teams battling to get in to the final two spots in the NL are playing at home this weekend…each with varying degrees of difficulty in their opponents.  Mets get the Marlins, again no slouch.  Phillies get the Nationals…somebody from Philly organize this year’s schedule in case it came down to the wire again like last year?  I mean, the Nationals??? Come on.  The Nationals may surprise people every now and again but let’s face it, if I’m the Brewers…I am not happy about this situation one bit.
Sure I’m at home…on the same field the Cubs borrowed and threw their nearly perfect, first no-hitter in club history in over forever ago.  Facing the team with the best record in the National League…who will show up as the away team…yet playing in a stadium often considered Wrigley North.
Forget Houston being rescheduled to play home games in Milwaukee…this hardly seems fair.
So here the Cubs are.  Already captured the NL Central, earlier than they ever have.  Best record in the National League, home field advantage through the NLCS (if they make it that far).  And as if that weren’t enough…they now get the added bonus of possibly playing spoiler for the Brewers.  
Wow.
The Mets were great this week.  If it wasn’t for their bullpen blowing leads, they may have faired better.  Considering we weren’t going full lineup in every game gives me very little concern about the Cubs in looking at these past four games.  Although I suppose Zambrano does raise some concern.  He didn’t look so hot on Wednesday and of course the start before that he got ROCKED.  Nobody is going to care about Z’s no-hitter come October, especially anyone in an opposing team uniform.  Dempster’s going to kick things off, but we are definitely going to need Z to be closer to no-hit form as opposed to ‘last two starts’ form.  As always with the Cubs, this is about to get (even more) interesting.
I love that we’re in a position to take a look at some guys in figuring out our postseason roster though, a luxury teams like the Mets, Phillies and Brewers don’t have.  Man, what an audition Hoffpauir had tonight!  5 for 5, 5 RBI’s and 2 HR’s.  I was IMPRESSED by him in Spring Training, unfortunately there just weren’t enough roster spots to fit him into for pretty much the entire regular season.  Once we had a chance to call some guys up, Hoffpauir and Pie were the two guys I hoped would get called up.  I expect them both to be on the roster for the NLDS and when called upon, while more so Hoffpauir than Pie, I expect them both to be ready and prove to be contributors in the clutch.
Three more games to the 2008 regular season.  Mets, Phillies and Brewers playing for a division …a wild card…an opportunity.  The Cubs on the other hand…playing in hopes of being champions…contributors…and quite possibly, spoilers.
159 games played.  And yet still, 3 more needed to make sense of it all.  GO CUBS GO!!!
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Advantage: Cubs

By beating the Mets in the house the Amazin’s built, the Cubs clinched home field advantage throughout the NLCS.  Now whether they make it that far remains to be seen.  However, with the home field advantage Wrigley has been so far this year for the Cubs…that is definitely more great news this club can enjoy, in addition to repeating as NL Central champs, clinching the division on Saturday against the Cardinals.

Marquis pitched a great game today going deep into the seventh inning and provided the game winning grand slam. I always find it weird to see a pitcher hit a home run, even as a national league fan. Of course, I always welcome it regardless.
 
You can tell its audition season as of late with Pie getting more playing time lately. I admire the fact that Lou is still playing everyone, keeping them ready and trying to built momentum going into the playoffs.  Pie has delivered as of late and I believe he will be a great cog to have if we need him in the postseason.  Before the season I thought he was the next great CF this league may see.  He still could be I suppose, but after watching Edmonds and Johnson take over center this year, it truly shows how much Pie still has left to develop as a player before he contributes at that level on a regular basis.  
 
One thing Fukudome will provide in the postseason for sure is his glove.  He’s a smart fielder and made another nice play tonight against the Mets.  His bat may have cooled off and the NL may have ‘figured him out’, but his glove is one thing you can’t do anything about.  He’ll be a great defensive component if nothing else in the playoffs.
 
I’m glad Lou is keeping Z in his regular spot in the rotation.  After getting hit hard last time out and having such a drastic difference in outcomes in his two appearances after being out for two weeks, Zambrano really needs to be in there on his regular rest.  Everyone else has been shuffled slightly to shape up and prepare our four man rotation for the playoffs.  That four man group of course will feature Zambrano, Lilly, Harden and Dempster.  Four great seasons right there…let’s hope it continues when the calendar flips and we hit October 1.
 
Speaking of which, still not sure who we’ll be playing which is why Lou hasn’t named a Game 1 starter for October 1. I can’t say I like the Cubs’ chances any more or less when it comes to the Mets or Dodgers.  Both teams have been hot and cold as of late, both have big time play makers in their lineups and I feel like their pitching staffs are pretty much equal performance and health-wise at this point, very late in the season.
 
55-26 at home this year.  Best overall record in the National League locked in.  Playoffs start October 1.
 
Advantage: Cubs.  
 
GO CUBS GO!!!
 
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Well, that was different!

From this:

zambrano no-hitter with graphic.png
To this:
bloodbath pic.png
5 days ago, brilliant.  Today, horrendous.  Let’s hope it just wasn’t Z’s day today and that it’s not some sign of things to come…some kind of warning sign of the shape Z’s shoulder is headed in when we need him at his best the most.
The Brewers are currently losing.  That’s cool.  Too bad we couldn’t do our part today.  For anyone who didn’t see the game, it was nowhere near as close as the 12-6 final score reads.  No, I know…six runs isn’t close.  
That’s my point.
I couldn’t believe it when half way through the fifth I was pretty sure I’d already seen 3 or 4 Cubs pitchers in the game.  It was just that kind of day.  Soto was out of the lineup too…that can’t be anything serious either, otherwise we could be looking at a situation where injuries prove to be this year’s goat, cat, and Bartman all in one.
Was hoping today was clinching day with Zambrano on the mound.  Didn’t happen.  Definitely disappointed but let’s face it…still have an 8.5 game lead in the Central at this point and tomorrow’s another day.  Brewers lose tonight, it’s back up to nine games and it’s all in our hands tomorrow.  
Still a great situation to be in as far as the division is concerned.  GO CUBS GO!!!
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One for Me. One for Brew.

magic number down to two.png

The magic number is down to two.  One win for the Cubs…one loss for the Brewers.  That’s it.  That’s all that is standing between the Cubs and a repeat title in the National League Central.  151 games played.  92 won. 59 lost.  And at home, a record of 53-25.  Tomorrow at Wrigley they get another opportunity to celebrate on the home field, for the 54th time this season…and if accompanied by a Brewers loss…this celebration will come with the division and another trip to the postseason…another chance to get to and win the World Series.

Zambrano is on the mound tomorrow.  Last time out we all know what happened.  Lilly and company nearly repeated the feat the next day.  The chances of that were ridiculous low.  The odds on Zambrano coming out and throwing another no-hitter are so stacked against the ace, it’s seriously ridiculous to even discuss it.  
The Cardinals are trying to make headway in the wild card race so they’ll be a team that will fight through the game and no matter what kind of lead the Cubs get on them early in the game, they won’t go away easily.  The Cubs will have to come out strong and not let up the whole game.  Exactly the way Piniella has preached for September and October to go if they’re going to finish this thing the way we all hope they do.  To get a victory like today’s and not capitalize on the opportunity it presents would be a shame.
When I lost my internet connection while watching today’s game on-line, the Cubs were down 5-2 and it wasn’t looking good.  I assumed we’d be stuck at four games at the end of the day and look to move forward with the countdown tomorrow.  When I got the text message that said the Cubs won 7-6 I couldn’t believe it.  I saw Ramirez go deep earlier in the game.  The guy has been a part of so many clutch moments this year, its a shame his stats aren’t better overall or I’d consider him someone with great chances to be the Cubs and the NL’s MVP.
soto 3 run hr game winner vs brewers sept 18.png
My favorite part aside from the simple fact that they won is the fact that a young player in Soto was the guy who stepped up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to deliver the game tying three run blast.  He was the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star game, has handled the staff well this season and has clearly made an impact on this year’s team.  It’s good to see him keep that momentum going in clutch moments such as today.  The more the merrier and we’re going to need everybody flying on all cylinders in order to have a chance at beating the ghosts of Cubs past this October.
Of course the guy who is favored to be the NL MVP this season is Pujols and he’ll be a bat we’ll need to keep under control tomorrow if we’re going to do our part in obtaining a chance to clinch on Friday.  Another title, another win closer to retaining the best record in the National League and home field through the NLCS potentially and the chance to do it all at home is on the line tomorrow.  One more win from the Cubs…and of course one more loss from the Brewers.  Voluntarily or not…sure would be great if all parties involved would corporate tomorrow.  What do you say Brewers?  Feel like losing to the Reds tomorrow?  C’mon…you know you do…
…please?  GO CUBS GO!!!
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