Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Playoffs

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In The Midst of Positive Feelings, The Cubs Still Manage To Frustrate

So I received an e-mail informing me that I was not fortunate enough to be selected to purchase tickets through the Cubs.  Balls.

However--even though playoff tickets have not been put up for sale yet--the same said e-mail informed me that I can purchase tickets on StubHub.  For just $400 a ticket, I can sit in the right field Bleachers!

You know, I'm all for the free market.  I think the lottery system is probably fair.  But the double-shot of finding out I will not be able to buy tickets when they go on sale, but can buy them for, I'm guessing, 7 times the face value...well, it's enough to put me in a pretty bad mood.

Did anyone get *good* news through their e-mail?

Uncle Lou has already hinted at using 11 pitchers

Even though he only really needs three starters in a best-of-five, as demonstrated in the 1984 NLCS (in which we pissed game 4 away by letting Scott Sanderson start instead of going for the jugular with Sut), Lou conceded that he doesn't need 12 but he will probably use 11 pitchers in the NLDS.

Of COURSE I would opt for 10 and the extra versatility it offers, especially when you consider that Z could be used for a PH if needed, as could Marquis, but I'm getting ahead of myself here...MARQUIS on a 10-MAN pitching staff, let alone 11?

If it were MY team, yes.  Outside of Marshall, nobody else currently toiling in the middle relief roles is really standing out here.  Marquis is as always de Suck, but Gaudin has not yet re-appeared, Howry is still on double-secret probation with me, and I would only include Cotts on a 11-man squad because he becomes, by default, the LOOGY even though he is no more qualified to be the LOOGY than the guy who I share my cubicle suite with, because when he picks up his pen to sign stuff, he does it with his left hand.  He's from Ecuador, and maybe he could bring some Latino Heat, no?

Anyway, here's my shot at it: Z, Lilly, Dempster, Hard-on, Marquis, Marshall, Cotts, Wood, Marmol, and, eeeh...Howry and Gaudin if he can return, otherwise Wuertz.  I could leave Howry off in order to be provocative, but you know and I know that Lou is gonna bring him along, unless Bobby does something drastic like gets food poisoning in a rat-infested Manhattan Wendy's, or something like that.  If it were me, I'd leave off Cotts and Howry, and go with a 10 man, but it ain't me, as we determined before.

Position players?  Soto, Hank White, A-Ram, The Riot, PonDeRosa, DPLee, Fontenot, Alf, Soulpatch, Lassie, Dome, Cedeno, Pee-Yay and, I guess, The Fat Kangaroo himself, Mr. Daryle Ward.  He's hitting better than Minor League Player of the Year Micah HofPower...

Playoff Roster Thoughts

Lou Piniella is a man with a few decisions to make.  For example - the Cubs have been carrying 12 - or, at times, 13 - pitchers all year long.  They probably don't need more than 10 in the month of October.  So, who stays home?  Who makes the trip?  And if the Cubs do indeed cut down on the number of pitchers they're carrying, then what hitters do they add to the roster?  Sensibly, they'd be adding at least a few who haven't spent a whole lot of time with the team this year.

Let's break down Lou's likely moves, and why.

The Starting Four

The strength of the Cubs - well, one of the many strengths - comes from the rotation.  Now, all year long, I've been an advocate of starting Carlos Zambrano in the first game of any short series.  Then, The Big Moose started getting blown out semi-regularly.  Oh, sure, he mixed in a no-hitter in between pumellings, and we could label him an epic tease, but at this point I do not trust him in the first game of a series.  As I mentioned in my last post, this is a team with tremendous pressure.  Momentum is huge, and getting blown out in Game One by a score of 9-2 might be all she wrote.  Therefore, I suggest this order:

Game One - Ryan Dempster. Cool, collected, dependable at Wrigley, Ryan Dempster should be a no-brainer at this point.  He's at the end of the best season of his career.  In a word, capitalize.

Game Two - Carlos Zambrano. Carlos has been a big game pitcher.  He still deserves the chance to pitch early.  If Carlos is on his game, he could deal a death blow to the Cubs first round opponent.

Game Three - Rich Harden. And this is the true strength of the Cubs.  Harden is a pitcher with ungodly stuff and an ERA bordering on 2.  And he may very well be the team's third playoff starter!! That's insane.

Game Four - Ted Lilly. Only the Cubs will have a fourth starter in the playoffs who may enter the post season with as many as 17 wins.  Again.  Huge, huyuuuuge advantage.

Now, the real debate.  The Cubs bullpen has been good, if not a little concerning as of late.  Kerry Wood has been walking a wire every game he's pitched in the last month.  Carlos Marmol, while dominating, has shown lapses earlier in the season and we still do not know if he has the mentality to handle a post season pressure situation.  Jeff Samardzija is a rookie.  And yet, Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, and Jeff Samardzija are our three no-brainer bullpen picks.  If the Cubs go with three more, then their options are the following:

Sean Marshall - LHP, 59.2 IP, 3.62 ERA.  The best lefty out of the pen, and he has the ability to throw 3 or 4 innings in a pinch.

Neal Cotts - LHP, 32.1 IP, 4.18 ERA.  Cotts was looking great up until the end of July.  He had an ERA of 2.79, he'd been shockingly effective, and then the clock struck midnight, his glove turned into a pumpkin, and teams began to light him up.  In the last 12 innings he's pitched, the lefty reliever with bonus money should he be named World Series MVP has given up 9 earned runs.  If Lou feels like he needs another lefty, then Cotts is his only choice.  But does he - or us - really need the agony and the grief?

Chad Gaudin - RHP, 87 IP, 3.83 ERA.  Gaudin's numbers as a Cub wouldn't be bad at all, except he took a bullet for Lou back on August 22nd against the Nationals.  The Cubs got hammered that game, Gaudin gave up 6 earned, and his ERA as a Cub went from 2.75 to 4.99.  Gaudin is just now returned from an injury stint, as he hurt himself while fending off a pack of wolves in order to save a group of young orphans.  Or, he stumbled and fell onto a dumpster.  Mine sounds cooler, so that's what we're going to claim happened to him.

Angel Guzman - meh.  Next.

Bob Howry - RHP, 68.1 IP, 5.27 ERA.  Insert your favorite variation of the has nude pictures of (team manager) and is blackmailing him in order to stay on the team joke.  Bob Howry has passed his expiration date.  Should Lou waste a playoff roster spot on him, I'll be nervous - especially if he's also included Cotts in that deal.  It's just not necessary.

Randy Wells - RHP.  Randy Wells is a force of nature.  Teams just can't figure this guy out.  He's never given up a single earned run in his career, and it would be a terrible mistake for Piniella to ... wait, he's only pitched like, 4 innings in his career?  ...oh.  Erm, moving on.

Michael Wuertz - RHP, 42.1 IP, 3.83 ERA.  Poor Wuertz.  His ERA in the month of May was 1.35.  In June, it was 2.08.  Then, in July, the Reds took him for a ride and Lou put him on a bus to Iowa.  Since his return, Wuertz has been effective - except against the Reds.  Man, seriously, between Jon Lieber, Ted Lilly, and Michael Wuertz, the Reds have had the Cubs number this year.  That said, despite his reasonable ERA, I'd be shocked if Lou brought him to the Big Show.

If I'm Lou, and if I'm picking 3 of those guys, it's actually pretty easy.  I'm taking Marshall and Gaudin for sure.  Then I'm rolling the dice on either Cotts, Howry, or the forgotten about Jason Marquis, although I personally would feel better if Lou went with Wuertz.

That leaves the Cubs with 15 bats.  The following are no-brainers:

C Geo Soto, Henry Blanco
1B Derrek Lee
2B Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Ryan Theriot
LF Alfonso Soriano, Reed Johnson
CF Jim Edmonds
RF Kosuke Fukudome

That leaves 4 positions open.  The likeliest picks are the following:

IF Ronny Cedeno - He can play both middle infield positions, although his mental lapses in big defensive situations scare the shiz out of me, and, while he's batting .284 with 11 doubles and an OPS of .718, I wouldn't trust Ronny as a pinch hitter, either.  Unfortunately, the Cubs just may need him due to his versatility, but I will break out into an instant sweat should Lou Piniella ever sub him into shortstop in a close post season game.

OF/1B Daryle Ward - Is he likely to go?  Yes.  Should he go?  I don't think so.  Ward hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire with his epic hitting skills this year.  In 94 at bats, the Badonkadonk is batting .223 with 3 homers and 15 RBI.  In other words, he wouldn't exactly be my first choice in a big pinch hit situation.  Actually, my first choice would probably be Carlos Zambrano.

OF Felix Pie - Defensively versatile, the young Mr. Pie is actually batting a respectable .363 since his return to the majors this September.  Then again, he's 4 for 11.  That said, Pie is defensively outstanding, and he might make for a keen late-inning defensive (or base running) replacement.

OF/1B Micah Hoffpauir - Chances are, The Hoff won't be going if Ward does.  Granted, he's batting .315 in 54 at bats - that's not that many less than Ward's totals this year - but my feeling is that Lou will turn to the veteran before he turns to the journeyman in a playoff situation.  However, if the Cubs do go with this many hitters, Hoffpauir is probably a reasonable fourth choice, Ward or no ward.

3B Casey McGehee - Colin wouldn't want McGehee to be one of Lou's roster picks, and I can see his point.  Casey only has 2 career hits, and they both came today.  However, the young man has one thing going for him - he can play third base.  On the Cubs, after Ramirez, only DeRosa, Cedeno, and McGehee have any experience at third base this season.  Considering that DeRosa will be starting and Cedeno is also the only qualified backup middle infielder on the team - as Fontenot will likely be starting at second while DeRosa starts in right - then the Cubs may want to turn to another third baseman just in case.  Ideally, enough other players are versatile enough so that it shouldn't be an issue, and I'd say that McGehee has less than a 1 in 100 chance of making the playoff roster, but the lack of backup middle infielders on this team is a little concerning.

Should Piniella go with 11 pitchers - not entirely unlikely - then Hoffpauir is an odd man out.  However, I think he's probably got a close-to-even chance of making the roster.  I'm sure we'll find out all the details in the coming days.  I'm even sure there will be a few surprises.  Hopefully one surprise will be the lack of Ward and Cotts.

Now, on Sunday morning, I attempted in vain to open this as a topic of discussion.  Considering how complicated it is, I can understand why it didn't work out.  However, I'll try it again now ... who makes the roster?  Who stays home?  And why?

Been waiting my entire life to say this

CUBS WIN

The Cubs...

The Playoffs...

Yeah.  It's a habit. No big deal.

Lou takes a bath

2-time consecutive NL Central Champions...the Chicago Cubs!

Uncle Lou gets the Champagne Fukkake!!!

Cubs clinch NL Central!

See how I've got the "Playoffs" tag on this post? It's because we're going. The Cubs are going to the playoffs for the second year in a row - something that I don't think any GROTA readers have seen in their lives.

Sure, this isn't everything that we want. But it's better than the alternatives. The next milestone to keep an eye out for - three more wins to clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs (except for the World Series, thanks to Uggla's Folly.)

History repeating?

Do you know how tall the tallest building in Champaign is? Let me tell you, it’s not that tall. I would know too, because I went to it last night after the Cubs lost to the Cardinals. I looked over the edge, thought about it for a second and then decided I probably would just roll an ankle if I jumped. Damn you Central Illinois!

Anyway, I know a lot of Cubs fans have entered the “Doom and Gloom” portion of the season that usually happens considerably earlier than mid-September, but I’m hear to stop everyone from rolling their ankles. Here’s why: the 2005 Chicago White Sox.

Yes, we sure do think the Sox suck around GROTA (We have scientific polling data to prove it!) but we can learn a little lesson from the ’05 Sox. On August 1, 2005, the White Sox had a 15-game lead over the second place team in the ALC. On September 1, 2005, the lead was down to 7.5 games. On September 22, 2005, the lead was down to 1.5 games. As most of us know, the White Sox went on to finish the regular seaso winning their last 5 games and winning the division by 6 games…plus there was that whole World Series thing.

In fact, we can even go beyond the ’05 White Sox. It seems the latest trend in baseball is division leaders blowing late season leads only to go on to win the World Series.

In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals were up 7 games on September 19 before barely winning the division and then rolling through the playoffs. In 2007, the Boston Red Sox had a 7-game lead on September 4 and won the division by only 2 games. Of course, they went on to tear up Rocktober in the World Series.

So what might this tell us about the 2008 Cubs? Two thoughts:

-Things are probably going to get worse before the get better.
-A little adversity seems to do well when going into the playoffs.

Personally, I find this both stressful yet somewhat reassuring. It’s stressful because I don’t know how much more of this losing I can take before I’m forced to burn my eyes out with hot coals. On the other hand, it’s reassuring because if the Cubs can overcome this slump then I believe they will have the mentality to finish the job we all know they have the skill to do.

Perhaps, I'm starting to sweat

Perhaps you've been busy. Perhaps work is taking its toll and you haven't been able to devote the unseemly number of hours to the Cubs that you normally do. Perhaps its been the best Cubs season of your life, and perhaps your lack of commitment to the team is tearing you apart inside.

Perhaps the team was cruising along until you accidentally tore the little hole in the September page of your Cubs Convention calendar... or perhaps its because Rich Hill is gracing said page of the calendar which hangs in your bathroom and you've been too spooked to poo for ten days*.

Perhaps the team has caught a case of the hiccups, or perhaps its falling apart at the seams.

Who knows? But perhaps your deoderant, which worked just fine throughout those hot summer months isn't working so well. Perhaps you shouldn't panic... but perhaps it's time to get worried.

*Perhaps this is the same GROTA. Poo jokes! HA!

What would it take for the Cubs to miss the playoffs?

Having shattered our wildest expectations, the Cubs look to exit the month of August with at least the same number of wins that they had all of last season.  Point of fact, thanks in part to this ridiculously awesome 7 game winning streak, the Cubs have not only the best record in all of baseball but they are widely seen as being one of the most complete teams in the game. 

The thing is, I'm a Cub fan.  In my time, I've seen them thrashed in three separate post seasons.  I've seen them collapse and narrowly miss the playoffs twice.  I've seen their best, most talented, most promising players get hurt, often in freaky, bizarre ways.  And on more than one occassion, they've broken my heart.  I'm a Cub fan.  Failure is a part of my language.  Disappointment is not an expectation, it's an eventuality.  Even in this moment, a part of me thinks "what would it take for them to miss the playoffs?"  Because I am curious, but not because I expect it to happen - I don't even really think it's possible - I'm going to crunch the numbers.

The Cubs are 85-50.  They have the best record in all of baseball, but obviously the point of this exercise is to look specifically at the National League.  They now have 27 games remaining.  While it's possible, I suppose, that the Cubs could go 0-27 and break all of our hearts, I'm going to argue for the sake of this article that, over the next 27 games, they will return to earth and match the worst record of any stretch this season.  For the record, that 27 game stretch looks to have spanned from June 15th through til July 19th, when the Cubs went 12-15.  A month of mediocre baseball, folks.  Ignoring that the Cubs were down Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, and Kerry Wood during portions of that stretch, it could happen again.

That would put the Cubs at 97-65 to finish the season.  Just a quick aside - let's say they lose tomorrow and then play .500 ball for their remaining 26 games, then the Cubs would be 13-14 and would finish 98-64.  Anywho.

The second best record in the NL belongs to the Brewers, who are 78-56.  They are the likely Wild Card team.  Let's say that the Brewers go on an epic run that lands them in first place, ahead of the 97 win Cubs.  They would have to go 20-8 in their remaining 28 games this season to achieve that.  Hey, it's possible, right?

After the Brewers, the next best teams in the NL are the Mets, Phillies, and Cardinals.  The Mets are currently 75-60, the Phillies are 73-62, and the Cardinals are 74-61.

Let's say that the Mets win their division with 98 wins.  To achieve that, they would need to go 23-4.  The Phillies and Cardinals also play great baseball and win 97 for a three-way Wild Card tie.  Philadelphia would need to go 24-2, and St. Louis would need to go 23-3.

By the way, the Phillies play the Mets 3 more times this season, and they also battle the Brewers for 4 more games.  The Mets also play the Brewers 3 times and they host the Cubs for 4 at the tail end of the season.  The Cardinals play the Cubs 6 times, the Brewers play the Cubs 6 times as well.   Here's where you will get dizzy.

The Brewers could only afford to lose 8 times.
The Mets 4 times.
The Cardinals 3 times.
The Phillies 2 times.

For the Phillies to win their 97 games, they'd have to sweep the Brewers and take 1 from the Mets while winning every other game.

For the Cardinals to win their 97 games, they would have to  at the very least split their final 6 games with the Cubs and win every other game remaining.

For the Mets to win their 98 games, they'd have to sweep the Brewers and the Cubs, which would afford them room to lose 2 more games in September.

For the Brewers to win their 98 games and still allow for the Cardinals and Phillies room to beat the Cubs, then they would only be able to afford a single loss in the month of September after having been swept by the Phillies and Mets.

Still With Me?

Okay, so maybe that's a lot of mumbo jumbo, but here's what it comes down to.  All of this is based on the argument that the Cubs are unlikely to play worse than their poorest spell of games this season.  It's baseball, not math, there is no certain outcome until the last out is recorded (sorry Rob, your wife is right).  The Cubs could lose more than 15 of their remaining games.  The Brewers could win enough games to take the central division title.  The Cardinals may be able to also overtake the floundering Cubs.  But just go back and look at these projections.  It's all very, very bloody unlikely.  

Point of fact, maybe disappointment is an eventuality with the Cubs.  But whatever disappointment is to come, it won't get here until after Game 162.  Although the older readers who know better will disgustedly shake their heads, and despite the fact that Tempting Fate remains a crime punishable by hanging in 15 states including Illinois, I'm going to announce right here and now that the Cubs are playoff bound.  The Brewers can cancel Christmas, the kitchen's closed, it's over.

I will say again that we will almost certainly see one final slide into mediocrity, but these guys are too good to stay there.  For all my life, I've complained about how the Cubs have never won anything without leaving us in suspense until the final moments.  It's been a long time since we've been able to just sit back and enjoy the beautiful thing of watching good Cubs baseball.

Finally, at long last, the Cubs have given us the chance to enjoy it.  So, let's do that.   And, sure, if you want to keep an alert eye on the sky in order to keep the other shoe at bay, then that is your perogative and I won't say I can blame you.  But don't blame me for promoting the contrary here on this blog.  I was recently described by somebody as a guy who has taken the job of convincing people that the Cubs will win the World Series (see the blog title).  I think that's fair.  And if ever there was a year for the unbelievable to happen ...

...well, you know where I'm going with this.  

The Cubs and the Playoffs

As the second half begins, and I realize I'm jumping the gun here, it's hard not to think about the Cubs in October. Before they can get there, they will still need to beat the Brewers and the Cardinals, and often. But, even then, once they get there it will be no easy walk for them.

Luckily, this is perhaps the deepest Cubs rotation ever. (Okay, in theory, the '04 rotation would have been far and away the best, but Dusty had to get all Dr. Giggles on the arms of his young pitchers.) Now, in terms of how the Cubs pitching staffs compare with the probable-if-not-likely other playoff teams, our beloved Cubs match up very, very favorably. But don't just take my word for it. I did some handy, dandy graphics, in which I compared the Cubs pitchers against the NL teams with the best chance of making the playoffs.  Naturally, I omitted St. Louis.  Take a look:

 

Cubs NL

 

 

Cubs NL 2

 

As you can see, the Cubs pitchers match up well. The thing is, obviously, every good team has an ace. Carlos, while having proven himself to perform well in big games, is not on paper any better than Brandon Webb, or Ben Sheets, or most anybody else. It's conceivable that the real advantage the Cubs have is that their #3 and #4 pitchers are head and shoulders better than most NL teams #3 and #4 guys. And Ted Lilly, whose numbers remain unimpressive, has actually been a much better pitcher than his numbers reflect.

There are obviously a lot of other factors that will play parts in what happens. From health to offensive outbursts to steady middle relief, it takes a complete team to go deep into the playoffs. The Cubs are a complete team, and they have the advantage of, in my opinion, having the best pitching rotation in the NL.

We'll have more to come on this topic sometime soon.

 

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