Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Playoffs

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What Lou Wants, Lou Can't Have

In sports, the window closes.

Any team that decides to make a move for the championship will select a few key stars to lead their team for the foreseeable future. In Detroit, the Pistons had a solid starting five of Rip, Sheed, Chauncey, Ben and Prince for years. In Indianapolis, the Colts offense spent many years revolving around Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Eddgerin James.

The problem with the concept of the "core" is that, eventually, they get old. Just a couple years after winning it all, the Boston Celtics will have this problem, with KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce all aging quickly (and three good knees between them). The Phoenix Suns' core of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire, and Shawn Marion has already been dissolved, even without having won a championship.

In Chicago, the Cubs have their core. They've invested tens of millions of dollars in three position players that simply can't be moved. For the foreseeable future, third base belongs to Aramis Ramirez; Derrek Lee owns 1B; and Soriano gets left field. That's how it is.

The Cubs' offensive core has had their days. They tasted the postseason in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, those days were short. But more importantly, they happened--this team had its chance.

As our core ages, as Aramis' shoulder acts up, as Derrek's neck spasms continue to flare, as Soriano's quick hands start slowing down, we're beginning to notice a major flaw with the group. Fans are convinced, along with the team's manager, that this group needs a lefty power bat to win.

Unfortunately, there's no place to put that bat. We've decided on our core, and there really isn't a lot of wiggle room one way or the other.

Jim Hendry tried to fill the lefty power gap by signing players like Fukudome and Bradley. In doing so, I think Hendry was wise not to ignore one crucial element of the game--defense. The guys we've got are not oafs. Bradley's brain hasn't quite caught up to his legs yet, but the guy can still move around.

As an example, look at the top five lefty outfielders in slugging this season: Raul Ibanez, Brad Hawpe, Adam Dunn, Jason Bay, and Jonny Damon. Those guys will all most assuredly see a rapid decline in their defensive skills over the next one to three years, assuming of course that it hasn't happened already.

Basically what I'm saying is--if you're convinced that the Cubs need a left-handed power bat to win it all (and I'm almost convinced of the fact at this point), then you're going to have to wait until 2011, when Lee vacates his spot at first base, for a championship team on the North Side of Chicago.

Until then, perhaps you should advocate having the Cubs act as sellers in the trade market, to prepare them for their next run. At this point, I think that's the side I'm on.

Lest We Forget, Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day

I’ve actually been thinking about this topic for about two weeks, and to be honest it would have probably been slightly more appropriate before the recent stretch of divine intervention, but I digress…

The 2008 Cubs were the best Cubs team I’ve ever seen. (Considering the amount of bickering that has been going on recently I’m sure this will be debated, but statistically speaking and seemingly intangibly speaking, they were one of the best.) They could beat any team and no matter the defecit, they were in every game. Almost straight through from April to September, the 2008 Cubs ran in to few glaring issues that ever threatened their chances of winning the division and they ended up clinching a week before the end of the season. That’s when the fun ended.

From one of the greatest offenses in club history to one of the biggest eggs laid in playoff history, that team took a nose dive. But that didn’t even seem to be the worst part. Nor was the worst part that they were so dominant all year and were being discussed as the easy National League representative in the World Series. The worst part wasn’t that pretty much the entire team, with a few notable exceptions, was expected to come back in 2009. The worst part wasn’t even the fact that I had accepted that we sh*t our pants in the playoffs, not even that mattered.

No, the worst part was that I was convinced that no matter how good the 2009 Cubs were, the entire season would just be one giant pressure cooker set to implode in October. I was sure that from April through September it wouldn’t matter how big our lead was, or how dominant our run differential was. The only thing that would matter would be 3 games in October.

Think about it this way: on June 22, 2008 the Cubs were 20 games over .500, had a 4.5 game lead and a +112 run differential! That team was unstoppable. I truly felt in my heart that last year was going to be the year. As we all know, it wasn’t.

Exactly 1 year later we are 3 games over .500 and only 2.5 out of first place. Oh, and our run differential? +12. Exactly 100 runs less than where we were last year at this time. That’s not going to last. This team is virtually the same lineup. They will hit. And the playoffs? No one’s talking about the playoffs; no one is saying this is a lost season unless we get out of the first round. All of the pressure right now is on having a successful season and making the first round. You could even almost make the argument that stumbling and sputtering through the first 2/5ths of the season could be the best thing to happen to this year's team. Now the pressure isn't about “Yeah, you’re winning, but what about in October? What you’re doing now doesn’t matter until you win a game in October.” The pressure is about now. It’s about a division race in the middle of the summer. Something the 0-for-October team from last year didn’t have to deal with.

I'm not being naive, either. This team is by no means perfect and currently has plenty of holes. They’ve frustrated and infuriated me all season, but this division is still there for the taking. They are the best team in the division, and I don’t think many would disagree that even in third place it is still theirs to lose. The two teams ahead of us whom we beat by 7.5 and 11 games last year? They got worse.

Look, (imagine Uncle Lou here) the point is there’s nothing wrong with a little adversity as long as you learn something from it. At this exact point last year The World Champion Phillies were coming off a 5 game losing streak (in the midst of a 1-7 stretch), only 7 games over .500 and a 1 game lead in the division. I bet anything they’d say the adversity and challenges they fought through the entire season are what propelled them to be the last team standing at the finish line. Let’s keep this in perspective.  It couldn’t hurt. Go Cubs.

Nothing easy in 2009 please

The Cubs are going to win the NL Central this year, right? Who is going to get in their way?

The Cardinals? Please. Outside of Pujols, their infield sounds like a law firm. Barden, Greene and Thurston - Attorneys at Law.

The Astros? Give me a break. Half their team is having his ass hauled in front of Congress.

The Reds? Two words: Dusty Baker.

The Brewers? They resigned Eric Gagne. Nuff said about their pitching situation.

The Pirates? LOLz.

Yep, seems like clear sailing for the Cubs in Aught Nine...but that’s exactly why I’m worried.

I know we like to showcase our optimism around here, and to tell you the truth, I feel better about this year’s Cubs than the team on the field last season. But the potential lack of competition within the division worries me.

I wrote a little bit about this near the end of last season, but I’m a fairly firm believer that a team needs to be competitive all season (especially after the ASG) in order to have the right mindset for the playoffs - That mindset being that every game counts.

Sure it’s nice to coast to the playoffs. It’s nice to be able to rest your stars or to know that your spot at the October table is reserved. But recent history suggests this isn’t the best way to win a championship.

Take a (very un-Colin and unscientific) look at the last 10 World Series champions...

2008: Phillies won division by 3.0 games
2007: Red Sox won division by 2.0 games
2006: Cardinals won division by 1.5 games
2005: White Sox won division by 6.0 games
2004: Red Sox won Wildcard (3.0 games behind Yankees)
2003: Marlins won Wildcard (10.0 games behind Braves)
2002: Angels won Wildcard (4.0 games behind A’s)
2001: Diamondbacks won division by 2.0 games
2000: Yankees won division by 13.5 games
1999: Yankees won division by 2.5 games

Outside of the 2004 Red Sox (who coasted to the Wildcard) and the 2000 Yankees, the most recent champs had to compete to make it to the playoffs. I feel that one could argue this competition only helped when it came down to business time in the postseason. I find this especially true for the '05 White Sox who nearly blew a HUGE division lead in September but caught fire in the last week, which helped them roll to the ring.

Now, there is nothing the Cubs can do about their division sucking. They can’t make their opponents better (Well they can, but let’s not get into that). The only thing they can do is motivate themselves.

Maybe the embarrassment known as the 2007 and 2008 NLDS will be enough, but over 162 games I think the team will need more than that.

A lot of the responsibility is going to fall on Lou. He’s got to keep the team motivated and the players need to respond. This is where I’m hoping Mount Milton Bradley will play his biggest role by erupting gallons of liquid hot motivational and competitive lava all over Wrigleyville (OK, that visual was a little weird). I want him to give the team a killer attitude. I want the Cubs not only to win the division, but to win 120 games an put the fear of God in every team they face while doing it.

Maybe another club in the division will step up and prove to be a formidable opponent. Who knows. I have a feeling there will be at least one surprise team in the NLC this season, but everyone knows the 2009 Cubs are built for one thing and one thing only: the playoffs.

So if they play every game like the way they were built to then things should be fine...but is that possible over a lengthy season?

Is anyone else worried? Am I just making a big deal out of nothing? Are things too good to be true and I'm just looking for a reason to justify my eye twitch? Talk me down people.

On the Rays and their fans

I'm gandering at the shoutbox, where I see Madisoncubaholic and cjaxson talking about Tampa Bay - a team that has won for the first time ever, supported by fans who provided them with one of the worst attendance figures in baseball in 2008.  They finished the year 26th in the league, having averaged 22,259 - far and away the worst of any team that reached the playoffs.

Unlike probably most of the GROTA Army, I've been inadvertently following the Rays since March.  I say "inadvertently" because I listen daily to a radio show that is broadcast out of Tampa, and they've been talking about the Rays ever since the bench clearing brawl against the Yankees during Spring Training.  And although their fans suck, I've been pulling for them to succeed.  Permit me to offer an alternative take on what has happened there this year:

Unlike the Cubs - yes, unlike them - the Rays are an organization that has been choked with failure at every level.  Before this year, they had never won more than 70 games in a season.  They've been unable to keep the few star players they've had, guys like Aubrey Huff (whose Baseball Reference page GROTA sponsors, because I love anybody with the balls to express himself honestly).  They've been mismanaged and misowned, and consequently the fan base never appeared there.

It's different than with the Cubs - when Chicago was a terrible team, at least they had a beautiful ballpark.  Tampa plays in a hole.  I think that everybody here would agree that if the Cubs didn't have their ballpark and their history, the fan base would be perhaps a little less rabid.  So when we say that the fans don't deserve the Rays, perhaps we could also argue that the Rays don't deserve their fans.

However, while it certainly is ridiculous for these crying fans to suddenly jump aboard and root for the team they've been "waiting for" all their lives - or, for the past 10 years - I think we'd be even more critical of the Rays if fans failed to appear at this point to support them.

Anyway, the short of it is this: I don't hate Tampa for in the World Series.  I admire them.  They are evidence that it takes more than a large payroll to reach the Series - it takes a well-built team.  As much as I've come to admire Jim Hendry for putting a talented squad together, I believe he remains the most overrated GM in baseball when it comes to actually developing prospects.  The Rays have reached this pinnacle because they've been well-developed.  For the Cubs to become a long-term successful franchise, they'll need to do that too.

As far as the fans of the Rays go ... eh.  The Cubs have had their share of bandwagoners, too.  If the Rays win, I will admire them, but their fans mean nothing to me and I don't really see them as being a part of it.  And while we could look at it from the simplest standpoint that this new team will have something that the Cubs do not, I think that's hardly a reason to be jealous or angry.  More to the point, it's just further evidence that anything can happen, and eventually will.

How to deal without booze

My first blog.

I'm 19, I attend UIC, and I live in Cicero. These factors combined equals a rather poor student. I work hard all summer to afford my few extravagant purchases, the main one being cubs tickets. I attended three games this year, two of which our boys lost. I was fine though, because I just loved watching them play. I knew this team had what World Series were made of, and I knew we were the best in NL, if not all of MLB.

I kept my hopes up for a comeback, even after the second loss. I looked forward to a game 5 on Oct. 7, my brothers birthday, and the infamous anniversary of game 5 from 1984 (the year he was born. Cursed day....) I kept faith especially high when we started to produce in the 7th and 8th. Men got on, and I could swear the miracle was going to happen. Momentum was shifting, and the dodgers would fall behind. Somehow, I think that if that Toe lickin' umpire at third had made the correct call in the first, LA would not have scored that inning. I think we would have won. But I am young and naive, and find enjoyment in blaming an entire game loss on one f***ed up moment.

Having a hatred of the announcers, and living in the Chicagoland area, I had all three games muted, and Ron Santo was my man on the radio. So I heard the end, before seeing it. I still watched, just in case it had somehow been horribly wrong. Sadly, it was horribly correct. I didn't cry. I called my boyfriend, and let him know it was all over; he quickly came over. I looked at him, and he was wearing his Boston Red Sox baseball cap. Memories of '04 flashed through my head, when our once co-loveable losers got their miracle. That also made me remember '03, and the pain of not getting what was ours. Then I recalled last year, losing three straight and deciding to support the red sox team. I rooted with my guy when Manny Ramirez would step up to the plate.

My hatred of Manny, miracles, and so many good, lost years finally drove me to the brink. I started to cry, and I didn't stop for a long time. My father wants the place just demolished, in hopes of ending this teams inability to succeed in post season. My grandfather, whom I found out today won't make it to christmas, will never experience a cubs win in his life time. And me?

I will be like my father. He has been a cubs fan through the worst losses, starting with '69. It has taken decades to break his spirit, which is currently shattered. But I am young, and though I do not have booze to help ease the pain, I have stupid, youthful hope. I can look at this team and think about how they are one good shrink away from being succesful in the post season. Pay Soriano a couple million less, and hire a good team of motivational speakers.

Meanwhile, I will mourn the loss of cubs fans who will pass this year, starting with one very close to my heart. And as for the ones we will lose, not to illness, but to a broken heart? They will be back. The cubs are a drug that we cannot do without. We all want to experience that ultimate high, somthing that no dealer can give for any price; we want to see the cubs win it all.

They will win it soon, because I am young and can believe that next year, every piece will fall into place. I will believe in next year until there is no next year.  I still cry a little over last nights loss, and I know it will keep me a bit more weary of the play offs, like my father was all along. But what upsets me the most is the fact that I can't watch a cubs game until next April.

I'll be there, though. I will find my cubs hat in some messy corner of my room, and sit with my brotheren. After all, it had been 100 years since we won, but 99 years of losing. NEXT year will be 100. Because of this absurd, ridiculous, completely illogical reason, I believe that next year is the year. We will get over 100 wins, NL will win the all star game, and we will sweep the white sox in both series.  I have to hope for these things, because this loss will drive me insane if I do not have something to look forward to, to desire, to feel excited about. 

Who needs booze when you got senseless hope? I'm 19, I'm young, and I am still a cubs fan. In my life, the first two factors will change, but cubbie blue is stuck in my blood for ever.

Just shattered

I got home today around 7pm. I went and watched the game at Irish Oak with some friends. I was so angry and pretty much mourning the whole season after game 2. I was trying to prepare myself mentally. Stupid me, I got my hopes up sometime between Friday night and Saturday. I went into that bar determined to go down with the ship but positive we'd escape from the Titanic.

NOPE.

God, where the HELL was our offense? All I could do was just stare at the tv and go WHY? JUST WHY? I'm going to leave the analysis to other folks right now.

I'm just so sad and tired. About the only thing that made the whole situation bearable was being with my friends and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. We managed to stagger into my friend's downtown apartment and crash on the floor. Soon we wound up consoling ourselves with the good memories from the regular season. We just couldn't focus on what had just happened. There wasn't enough kleenex for that.

I need to get some distance from all this, and yet I can't stay away. I'm sick of reading so much rage. Mark DeRosa made a blog entry shortly after the game and there were two trolls who immediately started jumping in with completely uncalled for commentary. COMPLETELY. I won't even repeat what some of it was - it was just vile and disgusting. It's real damn easy to be an armchair-baseball player.

These guys didn't go out to break our hearts on purpose. Duh. They choked, yes, but I really highly doubt this is what any of them wanted. They can't tell us what went wrong; they're probablly still trying to figure it out themselves. This also wasn't one man's failure (I see a lot of people in various places picking on DeRosa for some reason), hell, the WHOLE TEAM had issues and plenty of them. Our so-called "Big Three" (Soriano, Aramis and Lee) were anemic like last year. And these are the guys we are told we are supposed to rely on. I, personally, have more issues with Soriano because he is getting paid ridiculous numbers, and that IMO, means you are getting paid to produce and produce big.

Get the entire team a shrink or WHATEVER. Practice some zen. Somehow, the players need to be able to block out so much of what we as fans unfairly burden them with: the Herculean task of making up for the failures of other Cubs teams which they had nothing to do with.

I just missed the players as they came back to Wrigley from the airport while I was taking the el/walking to get my car where I'd parked it near Wrigley. There were a few people waiting, wanting to get autographs (which was incredibly ill-timed IMO). If I were one of the players, the last thing I'd want to do is sign autographs after what just happened. I would want to be making love to a bottle of Jack and that's about it.  I heard (from my friend's brother who did make it there in time) Harden was one of the few (or possibly the only one) to actually step out and talk to some of the fans and thank them. Pretty much everyone else just got in and out as fast as possible.

It looked so incredibly forlorn. It's like when the carnival or fair picks up and leaves. The party is done. Nothing is sadder to me, sportswise, than an empty ballpark in the fading October sunshine. The scoreboard still had information on it. Except for Cubs and LA it said "NO GAME". I could have wept right then and there. I really wish we all could have seen the ivy changing colors at Wrigley deep into October.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

NLDS Game Three Blogcast

12:11 A.M. - Good night.

12:09 A.M. - Fukudome grounds to short. Soriano is up.

12:07 A.M. - Theriot down on strikes. Fukudome up.

12:03 A.M. - Neil Cotts makes me look like a hater. Dodgers down in order, it's the top of the ninth now. Three outs til winter. Please, please, please let it be miracle time.

12:02 A.M. - According to Tony Gwynn, the Dodgers are "getting their hack on."

11:57 P.M. - Why is Neil Cotts pitching?

11:54 P.M. - DeRo strikes out. Middle of 8th, Cubs 1, Dodgers 3. Three outs remain in the imminent season.

11:52 P.M. - Apparently it is spelled Broxton. Anyhow, Ronny Cedeno runs for Ward and steals second.

11:49 P.M. - And we're on the board! Ward hits a shallow pop fly that falls in, Lee scores, DeRosa's coming to the plate, but Torre goes to the bullpen. Jonathan Brockston is the new pitcher for the Dodgers.

11:45 P.M. - Aramis strikes out, Geo pops out. It's up to Daryl Ward. He swings and misses (badly) at the first pitch.

11:41 P.M. - Derrek Lee doubles to lead off the 8th. Earlier, the commentators were talking about the defeated body language of the club. Most of the batters were sitting, dejected, on the bench. Lee was the only one standing at the railing watching the game.

11:37 P.M. - Manny Ramirez is retired for the first time today. Marmol is pitching well. It's the top of the eighth, the Cubs have six outs to score 3 runs or the season is caput. I'm not ready for that yet. Can it please be miracle time now?

11:34 P.M. - Furcal is retired for the first time today. Not for the first time, I wish the Cubs had been successful in signing him.

11:26 P.M. - Theriot and Fukudome reach against Kuroda, so Torre brings in Corey Wade. Soriano swings at the first pitch and flies harmlessly to left field. Somewhere Chuck discharges a weapon in a furious rage. Passed ball and Theriot moves to third. 2 outs in the seventh with two on for Mikey Fontenot. (I've pegged Mike as the Craig Counsell of the 2008 Cubs playoff run. It turns around here.) But it doesn't as Kemp catches the ball hit 390 feet to center. Damn! (In the backround, James Blunt keeps crooning about how hollow he is.)

11:18 P.M. - Lou double switched. Marmol is pitching, Fukudome replaces Edmonds in center. Marmol induces Casey Blake to ground out to short. DeWitt advances to third but is stranded there when Marmol K's Kuroda. Dodgers 3, Cubs 0. 3 innings remain. It's crunch time. I'm listening to James Blunt to help the tears start flowing.

11:09 P.M. - Blake DeWitt doubles off the right field wall. Mark DeRosa very nearly came too close to the wall, but made a nifty jumping barehanded grab of the ball off the wall to limit the damage to a double. Lou pulls Marshall for Marmol.

10:59 P.M. - Ron Darling says. "It seems like every pitch the Cubs hitters take is right down the middle and they're swinging at the ones off the plate." Tony Gwynn, Hall of fame hitter, concurs.

10:53 P.M. - Fangraphs has a Cubs loss as 90% probable. Link.

10:50 P.M. - Gawd! Furcal scores from first on a Russell Martin double. Theriot fumbles the cutoff so no play at the plate. Manny is intentionally passed again and Lou has gone to Marshall in the pen. Now, I'm just confused about Verducci's statement on Dempster. Dodgers 3, Cubs 0. Harden lasted 13 outs. Ouch.

10:47 P.M. - Verducci reports that Dempster is an option in the pen. This essentially confirms that Piniella is thinking about Z as the game 5 starter. I'm completely in favor of this development. Who would you rather have pitching today, Sean Marshall or Ryan Dempster?

10:43 P.M. - Soriano, Fontenot, and Lee down in order. Fontenot's flyout was well struck, otherwise, not much. My thoughts are that this game is playing out much the way I expect game two would have played out if the Cubs infield could have caught the ball.

10:38 P.M. - Tom Verducci reports that Mike Fontenot is not 100% and that Fukudome has been told to get ready in case he is needed.

10:32 P.M. - The Blogcast is now wearing a rally cap. Latest posts will be at the top. Well, my miracle didn't materialize as Rich Harden struck out, but he did come up with a 1, 2, 3 inning. He's thrown 70 pitches through 4 innings. At this point, I think we'll be fortunate to get six from Harden, and possibly fewer as I can't see Lou letting him bat in another important situation.

10:20 P.M. - Edmonds grounds out to the right side, advancing Geo to third with only one out... but DeRosa swings at the first pitch and grounds out to third, not scoring Geo. The Dodgers elect to walk Theriot and face Rich Harden instead. Come on... we need a miracle!

10:18 P.M. - Geo doubles, none out!

10:16 P.M. - Whew! First, Fontenot stays in the game. Second, Russell Martin pops up harmlessly to Geo. Then, Lou intentionally passes Manny like a Kidney stone. Andre Ethier scares the easily frightened portion of Cubdom with a warning track flyball that advances Furcal and Manny to Third and Second respectively. Then, after a brief discussion, Harden pitches to James Loney who also flies out and the third inning is in the books. Dodgers 2, Cubs 0. Harden at 54 pitches. We'll be lucky to get six out of him. Geo doubles, none out!

10:03 P.M. - This isn't looking so great. Ramirez bounced out to end the third, and Harden gave up a leadoff single to Rafael Furcal. After an attempted pickoff went wide, Furcal advanced to second and Mike Fontenot hurt himself. Six errors for the Cubs in three games, sayeth Dick Stockton.

9:53 P.M. - Harden grounds out, Soriano dribbles one to the mound as is easily retired... and Mike Fontenot takes a two strike sinker into center field for a single. Lee sees a few pitches and Derrek hits one through the left side hole. 2 men on, 2 out, Ramirez with a chance to change the momentum in this game.

9:46 P.M. - Dodgers go down 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the second. Harden seems to have settled down and the hard contact went away this inning. Both pitchers are right below 30 pitches so far.

9:37 P.M. - Cubs go down 1, 2, 3 in the top of the second. 21 outs left in the season unless we turn it around.

9:27 P.M. - James Loney doubles, Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez scores. The Dodgers lead 2-0 and Rich Harden seems to be throwing BP.

9:21 P.M. - Suddenly I was watching Titanic, but I'm over on TBS now. Tom Verducci reports that Larry Rothschild extended Rich Harden a little longer in warm-ups so that he would start the game at max velocity. Not sure that it did any good as Russell Martin doubled and went to third on Manny's single. With the replay, I'm pretty sure the ump blew the call at third.

9:17 P.M. - After Aramis walks, Geo grounds out. No runs scored, but Kuroda threw 17 pitches to get through the 1st.

9:11 P.M. - Derrek Lee doubles, the bats will not be silenced tonight.

9:05 P.M. - Welcome, Colin. And for those previously watching Titanic on TNT, we now cut in with the Dodgers vs. Cubs game. Thanks Chilango for the tip.

9:03 P.M. - And of course the Brewers-Phillies game starts to get real interesting. How inconvenient. --CW

8:53 P.M. - 14 Minutes to go, and I finally googled that song on the Friday Night Lights commercial. Here's a YouTube of the song. It's called Devil Town.

8:29 P.M. - 38 Minutes to game time, but the Phils and Brewers are only in the 7th. It's touch and go whether TBS will cut away to LA for the first pitch.

Note: If you're looking for the new content.  It's now at the top of the blog.  Just a friendly note.  - KJE

A look at what is to come tonight

It's been a strange trip since the regular season ended. We've seen the steadiest Cubs pitcher this season fall apart on the mound.  Then, the next night, we saw a steady-but-not-fantastic Cubs defense fall apart on the infield.  We've seen Kosuke Fukudome perform a wind dance - actually, repeated wind dances - and we watched Carlos Zambrano give his second-best performance in the past month, only for it to be a pummeling.  What we haven't seen is a Cubs victory.

We've also seen Cub fans declare it a Dodger victory after that first game's defeat.  The next night, we had people telling us that we'd have to be insane not to believe in the goat curse.  We've read stories about people crying, we've felt waves of frustration coming out of the Shout Box, and we've seen me quit multiple readers from reading this blog on at least two occasions.  What we haven't seen is the Cubs offense come alive.

I don't know what will happen tonight.  If you were being impartial, you would realize that you don't know, either.  At the most, maybe you have a really good idea about what is to come.

Here's what I do know.  I'll share it with you now:

  • The Dodgers are so ridiculously over-matched on the mound tonight that there has to be some degree of worry there.
  • Torre has stupidly used his #4 pitcher in relief in this series, and at this point I don't think anybody knows who would start Game 4 for the Dodgers.
  • The Cubs are a much better team than what they've shown us so far.
  • Anybody who truly and completely gives up before it's actually decided gets put on my list.  Trust me, it's not a pleasant place to be.

I know it's bleak.  I know that this team just might be broken.  What I don't know is how much pressure they have tonight.  I mean, the expectations are gone, aren't they?  Isn't this just a long 9th inning for them?  Teams score garbage runs in that kind of scenario.  The Cubs just might do that.

Anyway, I've decided that I won't be blogcasting tonight.  It's too late, I get too tired, and if the Cubs start losing I'll feel too depressed.  But I will be around, I will create an open thread, and I'm sure there will be plenty of action in the shoutbox.  There may even be a few f-bombs lobbed about.

But before I go right now, I'm going to offer up a scenario to you.  It's probably been on the back of a lot of peoples' minds, but maybe they've been afraid to say it.  But - in case you haven't heard - I don't believe in jinxes.

The Cubs are going to win tonight.  Here's what it's going to look like:

Rich Harden is going to pitch tonight, and he's going to throw well.  He will go 6-7 innings, walking no more than 3, and he's going to strike out 10 Dodgers - including Manny twice.

The Cubs offense is going to start out sluggish, but they're going to tack on a run here and a run there until the middle innings, where something big will happen.  They won't score 10 tonight, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if Kerry Wood was called on to record his first playoff save, but the Cubs are going to put up a comfortable number of runs before Torre turns to the Dodger pen.

After Harden leaves the game, there will be a few concerning moments.  The Cubs pen will look a little shaky.  Maybe Lou will turn to Bob Howry for some insane reason, I don't know.  But the Dodgers will nibble at the edges a little bit, putting up a run - or 2 - in the 7th and 8th innings.

Kerry Wood will come to the mound in the 9th nursing the most fragile 2 or 3 run lead that we've ever encountered.  He will either hit or walk the first batter he faces.  And then, with the Cub Fan Nation collectively forming what can only be described as a massive stress turd, Wood will escape the inning and the Cubs will have notched their first playoff win since 2003.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, if/when that happens, Ted Lilly will own them in Game 4.  Believe me, that dude is still pissed about what happened last October.  He's itching for the chance.  And as far as Game 5 goes ... well, Ryan Dempster is pretty hard to beat at Wrigley Field, even when there are faint indications that he's pitching with a dry mouth and urine trickling down his leg.

Will it happen that way?  How the hell would I know?  But can it happen that way?

You better believe it.  Go Cubs.

Game 3 Pitching Matchup

Your pitching projections for the evening:

Rich Harden: 3.25 ERA, 6 IP

Hideki Kuroda: 4.25 ERA, 7 IP

We'll look at the revised lineup later tonight.

UPDATED: Cubs odds of winning tonight: .529. Pitching matchup really favors the Cubs for the first time, but the Dodgers have home field. Putting in Fontenot didn't really move the needle any; the difference between two individual hitters in just one game isn't all that great, unless you're talking about the difference between Tony Pena and Albert Pujols.

Where I am coming from...

I'm from Maine, Red Sox country.  But, until I went to college, I only got to see the Cubs because they played day games (thank you WGN) and no one else in my family liked baseball.  Therefore, I am the most hated type of fan -- the sports bigamist.  I am a Cubs fan first and a Red Sox fan second.

Let's just say that in 2003, I was in a very uncomfortable position.  I cannot begin to describe the pain I felt that year.  To this day, if I ever see Alex Gonzalez I will kick him in the nuts.  I don't even care if I get the right Alex Gonzalez, I just want to kick some nuts.

Currently, I live in DC where one Aaron Boone played this year.  I boooood him incessantly whenever his name was called.  Of course, I also boooood Christian Laetner when he played for the Wiz, but I digress....

This Cubs team needs to take on the attitude of the 2004 Red Sox, in that they approached the last four games of the ALCS as a series of one-game playoffs.  They did not go into Game 4 thinking, "We need to win four games!!!"  They went into that game thinking, "We need to win one game."

I think that this Cubs team, as well as last years', has been going into EVERY game of every postseason series thinking, "We need to win this series...NOW!!!"  Obviously, that is not possible, and that vein of thinking will ultimately lead to failure.

Part of the reason this team was so successful during the regular season was due to their ability to put the previous day's game behind them.  If they come out flat Saturday (defensively and/or offensively), then theirs is a problem with motivation and coaching.  If they come out hot and still are unable to capitalize, then the fates are conspiring against them and there is nothing can be done.

This does NOT mean I believe in curses -- like I said before, I am also a Red Sox fan -- I know of which I speak.  So can it.  Shit happens.

Were the Cubs the better team in 84?  Yes.  In '89?  Meh.  In '98?  No.  In '03?  Even.  In '07?  Statistically, yes -- by the math the D-bags should never have been that good.  This year?  Yes (hell, the Cardinals were better than the Dodgers).  Will the Cubs buck up and show it?  Remains to be seen.

Now, I'm not dumb enough to say, "The Cubs will win on Saturday!"  But, I will say that, despite Kuroda's insane K/BB ratio (nearly 3:1) over 183.1 innings pitched, the Cubs actually have the advantage.  They are the better team.  They won 97 games in the toughest division in the NL.

Rich Harden was a combined 10-2, with 34 earned runs over 148 innings pitched, for an ERA of 2.07.  In the NL, he went 5-1, with 14 earned runs over 71 innings pitched, for an ERA of 1.77.  Obviously, this guy is our Ace and unquestionably the man we want in this position.  Let's just hope that the defense can hold up behind him.

Science willing, the Cubs will get to game four.  If so, Ted Lilly's record was 17-9, as well as 10-4 on the road, with an ERA of 4.09 (3.77 away from Wrigley).  Not to mention his 2.875 strikeout to walk ratio, all gives me hope of returning the series to the Friendly Confines and Dempster showing why he won 14 games there.

Let me close with this: I know it sounds corny, and I know it sounds insanely stupid.  But, if the Cubs (and the fans) would just address the series as a bunch of one-game series instead of trying to win it all on every swing, all will be OK.  The pitchers are sound; overall, the defense is sound; the batting is usually sound.  Just go out there and do what we all know you can do.

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