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Something Special In The Air In Chicago

Posted by sportsmaven on September 30, 2008

It almost didn’t happen.  Two series ago, the Chicago White Sox were left for dead.  They went into Minnesota to play the badly limping Twins, armed with a 2.5 game lead and left down by .5 game with 3 to play.  At least they were home and playing a Cleveland Indians team that was playing out the string in a disappointing season.  The Twins were doing their part, losing the first two games of their final series against an all of a sudden very tough Kansas City Royals team, but the Sox kept throwing the generosity back, losing their first two games as well.  Then, the first break came.  Indians LHP Cliff Lee, the probable AL Cy Young Award winner and 22-game winner was shut down due to a stiff neck.  The next break came in the form of a clutch outing by LHP Mark Buehrle on Sunday to extend the season.  The third break was facing RHP Freddy Garcia (who so happens to be married to Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s wife’s niece) and the Detroit Tigers at home.  The break after that was Garcia pulled from the game in the 6th inning after shutting down the Sox, only to be followed by 2B Alexi Ramirez’ grand slam to win the game for the Sox.  The biggest break of them all?  Hosting a one game playoff for the AL Central Division title at home against Minnesota.

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

The local Chicago media has been focused on a dual Cubs/Sox playoff presence for most of the baseball season.  Both teams were in 1st place in their respective divisions for most of the season.  TBS made a huge mention of this fact tonight on their television broadcast, as well as the fact that it has been 102 years since both the Cubs and the Sox made the post-season in the same year.  Nobody else mentioned the fact that in the same city theme, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Los Angeles Dodgers also made the playoffs this season.  Little coverage, little play anywhere for that story.  Since 1901, the White Sox have made the post-season 10 times, in 2008, 2005, 2000, 1993, 1983, 1959, 1919, 1917, 1906, and 1901.  In the same timeframe, the Cubs have made the post-season 16 times, in 2008, 2007, 2003, 1998, 1989, 1984, 1945, 1938, 1935, 1932, 1929, 1918, 1910, 1908, 1907, and 1906.  The last time both the Cubs and Sox make the playoffs in the same year?  That’s right, 1906.  In contrast, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s have made the playoffs in the same season 5 times since 1968.  The New York Yankees and New York Mets have shared post seasons three times since 1969 and the Dodgers and Angels have done it twice since 1961.

There have been 17 intracity World Series matchups in baseball history.  The Yankees and Mets played each other in the 2000 World Series, dubbed the Subway Series.  In 1989, the A’s swept the Giants in the Bay Series, marred by a devestating earthquake.   Then it’s the Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and 1955, 1953, 1952, 1949, 1947, and 1941.  In the middle, the St. Louis Cardinals vs. St. Louis Browns in 1944.  Before that, it’s the Yankees again vs. New York Giants in 1951, 1937, 1936, 1923, 1922, and 1921.  Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox?  Once, in 1906.

I don’t know if this will be the year for the Chicago match up for the ages, but something special is in the air in the Chicago baseball world in 2008.  Lets hope that it’s not another century before this happens again.

Posted in Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Do The Chicago Cubs Own Destiny? Only Time Will Tell…

Posted by sportsmaven on September 25, 2008

Hardly a day goes by before someone spouts an opinion about who our beloved Chicago Cubs should or should not want to play in the playoffs.  Just this evening, I had a conversation with my wife, her cousin, and a couple of other well informed sports theorists on the merits of each team the Cubs may have to face in the upcoming playoffs.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Like many others, I was initially caught up in the popular debate.  I originally wanted the Cubs to face the New York Mets in the NLDS, as the Mets provide a very favorable matchup for the Cubs.  Anyone, but the Philadelphia Phillies, I thought.  After the Cubs, the Phillies were the most complete team in the NL this season and played the Cubs very tough this season.  Then I jumped on the Los Angeles Dodgers bandwagon, Manny Ramirez included.  The Dodgers were less imposing, offensively challenged, and in the weakest division in Major League Baseball, the good old National League West division.  Ripe for the picking.

The Milwaukee Brewers?  Won’t have to even think about facing the Brewers until the NLCS, that is if they secure the NL Wildcard.  That bullpen, the streaky offense, did the Brewers ride CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets into the ground in their push to the playoffs?

Amidst the thinking of the various scenarios and how they would potentially play out, another scenario popped into my little head, like a great rush of fresh air.  It seemed almost too simple to comprehend, as though simplicity eliminated the potential of this concept to be with merit.

Really, it doesn’t matter who the Cubs play in the playoffs.  There are no Pittsburgh Pirates or Washington Nationals in the playoffs.  Every team that makes the playoffs is an excellent quality team.  Each playoff team has it’s flaws, some more than others.  The playoffs are seldom about the best team during the season, but rather, the team playing the best when the playoffs happen to be played.  It’s a crapshoot – the team with the hot hand has the best chance of going all the way, first to win 11games wins it all.  It means that the Brewers or Dodgers have as good a chance as the Cubs in winning a World Series.  It means that the Chicago White Sox or  Minnesota Twins have as good a chance to win it all as the Tampa Bay Rays or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Network analysts, newspaper sports columnists, Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal and other baseball talking heads get paid to spin their most favorable matchups for each playoff team, to analyze favorites and make predictions based on the results of a 162 game season.  It’s even vogue to pick a dark horse, playing on past runs of underdog wildcard teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, who won 83 games en route to a unlikely World Championship in 2006 over a 95 win Detroit Tigers team.

The team that will win the 2008 World Series will be the team that plays unified team baseball, puts it all together at the right time, catches lightning in a bottle to ride a hot streak that lasts for a month, a team that powers through the 11 wins necessary to be called World Champions.  Destiny has already chosen the 2008 World Series Champion.  The only question remaining is if destiny has chosen the Chicago Cubs, or do the Cubs have the balls and heart to go out and get their destiny?  Come October 30th, we’ll all know the answer to that question.

Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

…But Even More Brutal To The Chicago Cubs

Posted by sportsmaven on September 10, 2008

South Siders, you think the Sox have it bad?  You haven’t seen the September 2008 version of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs entered September with the best record in baseball, a 4.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central Division standings, and a good shot to win 100 games for the first time since 1935.  The Cubs appeared to be the best team in the National League and arguably the best team in baseball.  Then came September, the most dreaded month for Cubs fans, especially when the Cubs are contending for post-season play.  The Cubs September schedule was already brutal, but mix in a slumping offense, a huge turn of injury fate for key Cubs pitchers, and the typical unusual Cubs karma of September, and the faith of Chicago Cubs fans is being shaken, stirred, and tested like never before.  The last 18 games will be the ride of a lifetime.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The MLB schedule makers have played a cruel joke on the Cubs this season by the looks of the September schedule. The Cubs have 16 road games (9 home games) and 22 of their final 25 games with teams that are 10 games over .500 or better, i.e. the teams that are chasing the Cubs.  This is the most difficult schedule for any of the contending teams in baseball for a team that until recently, struggles on the road.  The Houston Astros have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break and are quickly moving into wild card contention.  Could they be this season’s version of the Colorado Rockies?

The Cubs have played all season in baseball’s best division, the NL Central.  The Cubs have had the best record in baseball at key moments of the season.  The Brewers have the second best record in the NL behind the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals have been on the heels of the two division upstarts.  And now the surging Astros are putting pressure on all the division leaders with their remarkable run of 12 wins in their last 13 including a home sweep of the Cubs last week.  The Cubs still have 3 games to play in Houston, 2 more in St, Louis, 4 games against the New York Mets in Shea Stadium and 3 in Milwaukee to end the season.  The schedule couldn’t be any worse for the Cubs until adding strange and unusual injuries and the lack of offense in the last 10 days that is disturbing to say the least.

The schedule withstanding, the Cubs needed to enter September with a healthy roster to close out a run to the NL Central Division title that started on May 11th.  The position players appear to be healthy and ready to play, but the pitching is in disarray, due to untimely injuries to staff ace, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Rich Harden, and now RHP Chad Gaudin.  Zambrano, who historically fights ailments in August (his worst month of the season) provided Cubs management and fans a scare with a potential rotator cuff injury that cut his last start on Sept. 1st short.  After examination and an MRI, it appears the injury is inflammation of the shoulder muscle, a much lesser concern.  Zambrano is due to miss a turn in the rotation before making his next start on Sept. 13th in Houston.  Harden was being rested for two starts due to a tired arm.  Harden repeatedly told reporters that he is not injured and the Cubs are being extra cautious of his workload going into the post-season, but combined with the Zambrano scare and the timing of the precautionary moves, potentially upsets the Cubs rotation for a decisive final series against Milwaukee, or the first series of the post-season.

Adding to the injuries above is the very unusual injury of the glue to the Cubs bullpen, RHP Chad Gaudin.  The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Gaudin said he bruised his lower back in a fall away from the ballpark, apparently sometime between his Aug. 29 appearance against the  [Philadelphia] Phillies and the next morning when he got to the park. Initial medical tests revealed no serious damage, but Gaudin hasn’t been able to pitch since.  With Gaudin out, the Cubs bullpen has been shuffled, with LHP Sean Marshall moving into the rotation, RHP Jeff Samardzija moved into middle relief and LHP Neal Cotts the only left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. RHP Bobby Howry has been ineffective and for all intents and purposes, unusable in games, being hit hard virtually the entire season and risks being left off the 25 man playoff roster.  The pitching appears to be a mess right in the middle of the most important stretch of the season.

If that doesn’t scare you, how about the inconsistency of the Cubs offense?  The Cubs lead the NL in runs scored and are first in nearly every offensive category that matters (batting avg, runs, OBP, OPS, SLG, BB’s) but in their current stretch of losing, their offense has disappeared.  In their current 1-8 stretch, the offense has scored 3 or fewer runs 7 times.  In their last 8 losses, the Cubs have left 67 men on base, or an average of 8.3 runners per game.  They have also hit into a whopping 12 double plays in those 8 games, including 4 in one game against the Astros.  The Cubs have also lacked timely hitting, scoring well above their 5.29 runs per game average.

The scenario may seem doom and gloom to the pessimistic Cubs fans, and after 100 years of futility, the disasters of 1969, 1986, and close calls of 1998, 2003, and 2007 who would blame anyone if a bit of cynicism set into Cub Nation.  But consider this:  The Milwaukee Brewers, the team closest to the Cubs in the standings have picked up exactly 0 games in the standings during the 1-8 stretch.  The Astros have won 12 of 13 and are still 8.5 games behind the Cubs.  The Cubs are 8.5 games ahead of the 2nd place wild-card team (Philadelphia Phillies).  Even Steve Stone said on AM670 The Score this afternoon that the Cubs will make the playoffs, just a question of where.  Just my prediction — The Cubs finish the season 13-6 and win 99 games.  They win the NL Central Division title for the second year in a row.  Anything beyond that — your guess is as good as mine.

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The Chicago Cubs Are Getting It Done Offensively

Posted by sportsmaven on April 22, 2008

The most impressive aspect of the Chicago Cubs fast start is how well the offense is producing. After tonight,s 7-1 victory over the New York Mets, the Cubs have scored the second most runs in the NL and third most runs in MLB. They are scoring a robust 6.21 runs per game so far this season, and the truly remarkable thing is that they are doing it without their top offensive threat, OF Alfonso Soriano, who has been on the 15-day DL after injuring his calf last Tuesday night, but before the injury, is off to his traditional slow start to his season.

Going back to April 7th, the Cubs last 10 wins produced the following offensive output: 10, 6, 7, 6 9, 12, 3, 13, 13, 7. In their 13 wins to date, the Cubs are averaging a whopping 8 runs per game. In 2006, the Cubs offense averaged 4.7 runs per game, 8th in the NL and 18th in MLB. Where has the offensive improvement taken place? Lets look at the key offensive stats. In 2007, the Cubs offense was average, finishing 18th in MLB in OBP (.333), 15th in MLB in slugging (.422) and 15th in MLB in OPS (.754).

In 2008, the Cubs are averaging 6.21 per game. They are 2nd in the NL and 3rd in MLB in runs scored with 118. In 2008, the Cubs offense is near the top of every category, 1st in the NL and 2nd in MLB in OBP (.366), 4th in the NL and 4th in MLB in slugging (.456) and 2nd in the NL and second in MLB in OPS (.822).

The Cubs 13-6 record in April is their best April in recent memory, fueled by the resurgent Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and newcomer Kosuke Fukudome. Six starters have batting averages above .300 and the seventh is hitting .282. Seven starters have an OBP over .408, seven starters have a slugging percentage of over .408 and 7 starters have an OPS over .821. The 8th starter? OF Alfonso Soriano, who is at the bottom of the charts in all categories (.230/.290/.528). How dangerous will the Cubs be offensively, if they maintain this pace and Soriano begins to hit his stride?

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Chicago Cubs are 2007 NL Central Division Champions

Posted by sportsmaven on September 29, 2007

When it seemed to be the most bleakest moment of the season, being swept by the lowly Florida Marlins, the Chicago Cubs put together perhaps their best game of the season in beating the Cincinnati Reds, 6-0 tonight. An hour later, the San Diego Padres set off the celebration by beating the Milwaukee Brewers 6-3, crowning the Cubs as your 2007 NL Central Division Champions. For those who feel the Cubs are backing into the playoffs, tonight should erase all thoughts of that. The Cubs had to win tonight with their top pitcher, Carlos Zambrano manning the mound and he was spectacular. The Cubs got enough hitting and put the misery of southern Florida behind them. By the way, what the hell is up with the Florida Marlins anyway? If they had played their entire season like they played the last 2 weeks, they would be NL East Champions. Instead, they get the unenviable position of being a spoiler. I’m sure that 40 years from now, each Marlins player is going to have his grandkid on his lap and will tell them how in 2007, they slowed down the mighty Cubs from clinching the division and spoiled the division championship for the New York Mets. Do they give rings out for that? I think not.

Cubs Win NL Central Title

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Carlos Zambrano Wins Division Title!

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

The Sportsmaven is heading to Cincinnati tomorrow morning to see the Cubs face the Cincinnati Reds at a 2:55p gametime start. This game should be a dog. Will this be more than a spring training B game? Doubtful, but none the less, look forward to seeing yet another new ballpark this season, the Great American Ballpark. On Wednesday, Oct. 3rd, everyone starts from scratch. Eight teams will have a magic number of 11, the Cubs one of those teams and they are living on cloud nine tonight.

Cubs Win!

(AP Photo/David Kohl)

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs……2007 NL Central Division Champions!

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