71 Years In the Making, a Dream Is Ready To Be Real

“…what do you become when you walk through that door in center field?”

“We sleep,” says Chick Gandil finally.

“And wait,” says Happy Felsch.

“And dream,” says Joe Jackson. “Oh, how we dream…”

And so have Cubs fans also dreamed long. For 71 years. Or actually, 108. Although the context of Jackson, Gandil and Felsch’s above remarks were fictional (from W.P. Kinsella’s amazing Shoeless Joe, from which Field of Dreams was based), their poignancy remains relevant here. For lifelong Cubs fans, we have waited. And dreamed. I cannot recall how many times as a kid, or even as recently as two days ago, I dreamed I’d one day hear the words “the Cubs have won the pennant!” from some official voice. A broadcaster, perhaps. Or a news anchor. Any voice other than the one in my own head.

And then it happened.

By virtue of Kyle Hendricks’ masterpiece and some thunderously received runs, the Cubs beat the Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the NLCS to clinch their first pennant since 1945. Rejoice, hallelujah, amen. Fans of other teams, save for possibly the Cubs’ opponent in the World Series, cannot understand what it’s been like. Nor would we really want them to. It’s been part of what makes the Cubs “our” team. But alas, one of the very reasons the Cubs have been able to do what no Cubs team could in the past 71 years is because they simply didn’t care. Well, not about the past, anyway. Sure there is ridiculous talent and unique energy on this team that has become the unequivocal best in baseball, but where past teams may have allowed pressure to mount and the “oh here we go again!” feeling to creep in if things started going south, this team did not waver in such ways. And here they are in the World Series.

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Baseball never ignores its ghosts. They’re always watching. 

Boy, baseball sure is funny. The Cubs as we all know haven’t won a World Series since 1908. The Cleveland Indians haven’t won since 1948. That’s the two longest championship droughts in baseball, a combined 176 years. While Major League Baseball may have yearned for a Cubs-Red Sox date in the World Series, featuring endless narratives about the teams Theo Epstein built pitted against one another, one long losing streak snapped with the other in-progress, the two oldest ballparks, etc. they got the next best scenario: Two classic, old-time franchises with the longest and largest World Series snakebites.

As has been the case all playoffs for the Cubs, pitching will be the focal point. But Cleveland has ridden the coattails of their stalwart arms themselves, to impressive feats along with timely hitting to arrive in this series red hot and hungry. The matchups look pretty intriguing too: NLCS Co-MVP Jon Lester takes the bump for the Cubs in Game 1 in Cleveland, going against their ace Corey Kluber, an 18-game winner this season. Jake Arrieta gets the call for Game 2, allowing Kyle Hendricks to rest fully for Game 3. Arrieta takes on Trevor Bauer, while Hendricks will face Josh Tomlin back at Wrigley Field. Rugged veteran John Lackey will go in Game 4 for the Cubs and although no starter for that game has been announced yet by Indians skipper Terry Francona, there is a good possibility that Kluber could go again on short rest as he did in the ALCS.

Offensively the Cubs really found their stride again in the final three games of the NLCS after a too-lengthy stretch (including the NLDS) of some quiet bats. By way of one little bunt from Ben Zobrist in Game 4 of the NLCS, something clicked. For just about everyone that is. This is the Cubs team I saw all summer was the collective sigh among Cubs fans. What’s more, is that it’s looking like slugger Kyle Schwarber may join the active roster in a DH role for the Series. Not only would this be a terrific morale jolt for the Cubs, it provides them with a bat that has game-changing ability, even if he hasn’t faced big league arms in over 5 months. The fact that Schwarber could be ready to go after a dreadful knee injury in April is a testament to his work ethic and, perhaps intangibly, the right piece to the puzzle at the right time. Conversely in Cleveland, their aggressive baserunning and some very timely homers charged their playoff attack. Look for them to test Lester and Arrieta in particular, with the threat to steal or take extra bases. Cubs catchers and outfielders however can counter that threat, and the stellar infield defense will need to continue. Beyond those factors, the head to head chess match between two of the best managers in the game, Crazy Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, should be enjoyable to watch.

Whatever happens, one long title slump is about to end. It should be one for the ages to see how it happens.

Photo Credit: http://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cvc-AMnXYAobdkN.jpg:medium

Source: Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella, 221.

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The Weird Keeps Getting Weirder

Even the unwritten rules are made to be broken.

Take a look at the way bullpens have been used by most teams this postseason for proof of that. The various ploys have worked in some cases, most recently by the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS after a back and forth series battle with the Nationals. But extending some key personnel could have an effect on their NLCS date with the well-rested Cubs.

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The pitching matchups will again be the focal point. The Cubs repeat their DS rotation, as Jon Lester anchors the staff with a Game 1 start vs. Kenta Maeda at Wrigley Field. Game 2 is where things get extra interesting as Kyle Hendricks takes the hill for the Cubs vs. in all likelihood, the mighty Clayton Kershaw. Hendricks exited his Game 2 start against the Giants early after taking a liner off his right forearm, but he is 100% and ready to go. Kershaw recently started Game 4 against the Nationals and then appeared out of the bullpen to close Game 5, though he only threw seven pitches in the clinching victory. Kershaw could appear on short rest for Game 5 in LA, or with full rest in Game 6 back at Wrigley. The third game then, takes place at Dodger Stadium and pits Jake Arrieta against either Rich Hill or Julio Urias, with John Lackey starting Game 4 against the other of the Hill/Urias probables.

Both bullpens will of course be factors too, as we’ve seen skippers Joe Maddon and Dave Roberts both play a lot of musical chairs with their options. One notable roster move was made by Maddon, activating LHP Rob Zastryzny as an option out of the pen to play the matchup game against the Dodgers’ several left-handed bats. Like we saw in the Cubs-Giants division series, every small play counts, particularly on defense. The Cubs have the advantage there and will need to lean on that to effectively shut down the Dodger attack. Offensively, the Cubs never fully got going in the DS, at least from some of the heavy hitters you might expect, but they managed to score runs in other ways. Not the least of which was the absolutely fantastic 9th inning comeback in the clinching Game 4. Again, it comes down to never knowing what will happen. It’s worth repeating: Playoff baseball is weird. Really, really, really weird.

So there you have it and here we are. As is well-known, anything can happen in baseball and particularly when it comes to the playoffs, things are impossible to predict. (How many people banked on a Rangers-Red Sox ALCS for example?) So strap in for an exciting series. I’m already on the edge of my seat.

Oh, and this is a side note. Actually it’s a pet peeve. Or more accurately, it’s a major psychotic hatred:

I personally am extremely superstitious in general, and about baseball in particular. I adore baseball history and folklore too. But folks, please stop talking about curses. And goats. And black cats. And all the other completely BS narratives that come with the Cubs’ World Series drought. Aside from some asinine TV commentary, most of this subject matter is spewed as little piss ant pot shots from other team’s fans, or those poor saps who like to launch some schadenfreude for their own personal glee. Enough already.

Yes, it’s a historical fact that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Yes, it’s another historical fact that they haven’t appeared in the World Series since 1945. That is where the facts end. All the talk about curses, goats, et. al. are nothing more than sad, wives tale excuses about why the team has unsuccessfully endeavored to return to the Fall Classic for 71 years and they have disturbingly been woven into the fabric of baseball history. Please stop perpetuating these deplorable cop-outs. It’s bad enough that too many misinformed, disrespectful people use it as endless ammo to annoy and ridicule. It will be great when that no longer will be the case.

Peace, love and baseball.

 

Photo Credit: http://cdn20.patchcdn.com/users/38195/20161014/105215/styles/T600x450/public/article_images/cubs_dodgers_graphic-1476454405-3823.jpg

 

Playoff Baseball Is Really, Really Weird.

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The Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball.

Yes, were. In the regular season that is. The northsiders enjoyed a stellar 103-58-1 campaign, winning the NL Central Division by a whopping 17.5 games. They boasted a pitching staff that had the lowest ERA and WHIP in all of baseball, and who’s number two and number five starters were so good that not only are they both in Cy Young contention, but it forced the reigning NL Cy Young winner to be slotted down to number three for the playoffs. They were also the best defensive team in baseball, and have possibly three Gold Glove winners in the mix. Oh, the NL MVP may be in there too. In all, that’s a rather impressive body of work.

None of it means anything anymore.

Well, sort of.

The Cubs will need to count on all the above and fire on all cylinders in the NLDS against the Giants, who come into Wrigley Field for Game 1 on the strength of a stellar 3-0 win in the NL Wild Card game over the Mets in New York. The Giants rode the coattails of ace Madison Bumgarner, who, continuing his career M.O. of postseason excellence, fired a four-hit shutout to advance his squad to the DS. This sets up a really interesting, and nerve-wracking, matchup.

The pitching probables are the key here. Jon Lester gets the go for the Central Division Champs in Game 1, while the Giants counter with nastyman Johnny Cueto, who is likely to appear again in Game 5, if needed. In between, there will be a push-pull matchup in Game 2 with The Professor, Kyle Hendricks, on the bump for the Cubs, against former Cub and prodigious pushbroom-possessing Jeff Samardzija. This here will be where things get screwy. Game 3 moves to San Francisco, with Bumgarner on the hill. If the first two games are split, then this would be just what the Giants want, a chance to take the lead at home with their ace on the mound. The Cubs, fortunately, have an ace of their own to roll out in Jake Arrieta. Game 4 would see Matt Moore square off against playoff-tested veteran John Lackey, and a possible Cueto/Bumgarner combination against Lester in Game 5.

The easier-said-than-done philosophy for the Cubs will “simply” be to take care of business at home. They have the more dynamic offense, and so in all games, if the Cubs can get to the Giants’ bullpen as early as possible, then that will be an advantage. Defense is another big factor and one of the Cubs’ greatest strengths. Intangibly-speaking, and there are always tons of these in playoff baseball, is the time off. The Cubs haven’t seen any real game action in five days and in a long season where rhythm can be as important as anything, there’s always the possibility of a little disruption in flow. This would be where Cubs skipper Crazy Joe Maddon, with his regular workouts and irregular philosophies, can only help.

Baseball is weird, guys. And playoff baseball is even weirder, to the Nth degree. Unlike other playoffs in sports like basketball and football where talent often wins out, the best team in baseball doesn’t always win. There are just too many variables and the very bizarre nature of playoff baseball itself makes it completely unpredictable. The Cubs were unequivocally the best team in baseball in 2016, and anyone who’s paid the slightest attention to the game really can’t argue otherwise. But that was then. Like the saying goes, ‘two things in baseball don’t mean shit: Last year and yesterday.’

That being said, let’s just see what happens right now then, shall we?

 

Photo credit: http://cdn20.patchcdn.com/users/38195/20161006/100210/styles/T600x450/public/article_images/cubs_giants_graphic-1475762522-9277.jpg

With the ’32 Title, Yanks’ Record Run Is In Full Swing

On this day in 1932, the Yankees would win their 12th consecutive World Series game, and fourth championship overall as they defeat the Cubs at Wrigley Field, 13-6.

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1932 World Series action at Wrigley Field

One day after Babe Ruth’s mythical “Called Shot” home run off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root (who vehemently denied the gesture ever happened, although this still shot shows Root’s back was turned during the alleged “call” so he never actually saw it,) the Bronx Bombers would bash out 19 hits en route to the drubbing of the home team. The title would be the Yankees’ first of five championships in the decade, after earning three in the 1920’s, kicking in full gear a long streak of regular World Series appearances (52) and titles (27,) both MLB records to this day.

Sources: http://www.nationalpastime.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com

Photo Credits: https://aos.iacpublishinglabs.com/question/aq/700px-394px/did-babe-ruth-really-call-his-shot-1932-world-series_667c2d2247f64910.jpg?domain=cx.aos.ask.com