We're just hours away from the postseason now, which means that Cubs' fans are either a.) getting even more nervous/excited, b.) getting drunker, or c.) all of the above.
It's easy to compare the buzz to 2003, but this is bigger than 2003, it's simply that over half the Cub fan base wasn't alive last time the buzz was this big. The Cubs are actually favored to win the pennant. Heck, if this were beyond the last 25 years or so, prior to the creation of the playoffs, the Cubs would have already won the pennant for the first time since 1945.
But lets forget about expectations. Cubs fans don't do well with expectations. Let's just say the Cubs have the pieces in place to win the pennant and strongly bid for the world title. Getting there could be another wild ride.
The question is which team will show up at 5:30 tonight? The team that was patient and tore its way through April, May and August or the team that left too many men on base and blew late game leads playing just .500 ball in June, July and parts of September?
Will we see 3-for-4 with 3 RBI Derrek Lee or D.P D.Lee? Will we see lights out Carlos Marmol or wild Marmol? Clutch late inning blast Aramis Ramirez or streak of 0-for-20-something Aramis Ramirez? No-hit Zambrano or free longballs Zambrano?
Those are some scary questions to wrestle with. The key is that if some of the players go with choice B, enough of the others will be choice A. That is this team's biggest strength. No single person can be depended on, but no single person is relied on. Can depth win a World Series? You'll get your answer this October.
Baseball is called the game of adjustments and it doesn't just apply to the mechanics of the game. For example, if the starting pitching has a suddenly bad day, the bullpen can be a bandage and give the offense a chance to come back. If the hitting is struggling, the starting pitchers can hold off the other team's bats until something gets going on offense. If the bullpen blows a lead, the hitters can put men on base to give the big hitters a chance. This is what the Cubs can do well: win games however they need to be won. The question will be how many of these 'three sections' will be hot starting at 5:30? If one of them is off, will the others be there to pick them up?
Like any team over the course of a 162-game season, the Cubs were streaky in all these areas. in June/July, the bullpen struggled. They were unstoppable in August. The same was true of the hitting.
When the Cubs are hot, some specific things happen. Look for these in the next week to see if this Cubs team is for real:
-the pitching goes Starter-Marmol-Wood. In those situations the Cubs are i'm almost positive undefeated.
-the Cubs are patient at the plate. This makes the difference between being good and dominant
-there's some new hero in each game. Someone gets the big late-inning hit or the home run that builds a sizable lead. Everyone on this team has done it.
-starting pitchers don't walk guys. All the Cubs' best arms are at their best when they keep walks down, including Dempster, Zambrano, Harden, Marmol and Wood.
So, how will this factor in against the Dodgers?
The Dodgers rely a lot more on their offense. In the Manny era, where the Dodgers have made their playoff run, one thing is very clear: when they win, they score a lot of runs. In their 8-game win streak in early September, they scored no less than 5 runs in all of those games. Their 8-game losing streak that ended right as the win streak began? They never scored more than 4 runs. They won 17 games in the month of September and won 11 of those by 4 runs or more. If the Cubs limit their offense, they will have trouble winning if the game is close. This is why the starting rotation being reliable is so key.
With all that information now, I offer some advice and a little prayer for my fellow faithful. If I've learned anything as a Cub fan this year, is that "it's not over 'til it's over" can apply when the Cubs are behind in a game too. I've seen my share of comebacks. At the same time, the reverse still holds true. Don't assume anything is in the bag until all 27 or however more necessary outs are recorded. Get excited when the Cubs do well, but don't blame them if they make mistakes...unless they're Bob Howry. Howry is the only acceptable scapegoat on the team. The team is too balanced and able to win in too many facets to blame one player...or fan.
So, to the higher baseball powers that be, provide us emotional safety in this adventure that is another Cubbie post season. Give us the strength to endure and accept the Cubs' fate, whether it be the joys of celebration or the agonies of heartbreak. May we all be better fans for it. And let us say: play ball.