Cubs 101 - Pt. 70 - 0 and 6: a Tale of Two Post Seasons
The Playoff Cubs -- it could've been the team's nickname after Chicago made consecutive post season trips for the first time in 100 years. But while one of the two occurred with no expectations, the other was one of the bitterest disappointments since the Bartman Incident half a decade before. And both exampled the problems that the Cubs will continue to deal with any time they reach the post season.
In '07, as we highlighted earlier, the Cubs were dead-to-the-neck-up when they turned around and played some of the hottest baseball in the land. As the season drew to a close, Chicago entered the playoffs with a 85 wins and were set to take on the unimpressive-but-solid Arizona Diamondbacks. It pretty much unfolded as you'd expect, with offensive struggles, managerial mishaps, and petty celebrations.
Carlos Zambrano, four years removed from his last trip to the playoffs (when he suffered some beat-downs), started Game One of the '07 playoffs for the Cubs. He pitched 6 innings of 4-hit, 1-walk, 8 strikeout baseball, and with 85 pitches on his tally Lou decided to yank him "for game four."
Carlos was supported by, well, not much of any kind of offense. The Cubs managed only 1 run, and when Carlos Marmol imploded in the 7th the D-Backs never looked back. The Cubs followed up Game One by scoring 4 runs in Game Two, with the latter 2 getting scored long after the game had already been decided (not to mention Ted Lilly got his ass handed to him). Then, in Game 3, Arizona scored 5 runs to the Cubs 1 (thanks for nothing, Rich Hill) and that was all she wrote.
Think about it. The nearly unbeatable-since-June Cubs averaged 2 runs per game, saw their best pitchers -- except Carlos -- get their asses kicked, watched their untouchable bullpen -- including Marmol -- get handled, and suddenly Lou started talking about the pressure in Chicago.
And sure, there is a lot of pressure in a Chicago Cubs playoff game. The fans are desperate for a win, they're terrified of a meltdown, and they'll go from booming with joy to silent as ghosts in a heartbeat. And the players, let's be honest, the players have got to feel it. Lou says they feel it, they say they feel it, and thus the term "playing tight" gets thrown around. And that was just in the playoff series where expectations were low.
The following year, the Cubs were the winningest team in the National League. They had the best offense in baseball and one of the best rotations, and their first round opponents were the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That year, despite Carlos being a no-hit pitching gawd, Lou decided that Ryan Dempster would pitch Game One. After all, he'd been way, way more reliable and consistent in '08. Dempster responded by dropping a turd, particularly in the 5th inning when he gave up 4, the accumulation of 7 walks and 4 hits. The Dodgers proceeded to nickle and dime the Cubs bullpen.
But no worries! In Game Two, Carlos took the mound. And his outing wasn't so bad, except for the 2nd inning when the Cubs suffered a total defensive meltdown. They saw errors from Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa, and later in the game had errors committed by Ryan Theriot and Aramis Ramirez.
This meltdown led to 10 runs scored by the Dodgers, and in Game 3 the Cubs were ghosts, holding the Dodgers to 3 runs but scoring only 1. In other words, for the second straight year, the Cubs were swept, they averaged 2 runs a game, and they exited early.
So, that has been the legacy of Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry's Chicago Cubs. 183 wins over 2 years, but an 0-6 record in the playoffs. These days, a lot of Cub fans wonder if the team can even remotely come close to winning the World Series ... or even reaching it. Maybe the Ricketts family will bring a new, better mentality to the team.
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