Note: I know we’re all about college football at TMG. But this Cub thing is bigger than both of us. Here's the next installment in a series on why this Cubs team has a chance to do the unthinkable. Thank you for your indulgence.
Hendricks to Lester to Arrieta? Lester to Hendricks to Arrieta?
No matter how you arrange them, those names don’t have the same ring as Tinker to Evers to Chance.
But that trio of Bear Cubs keeps cropping up in conversations around Chicago. It has been a given since the Fourth of July that the Cubs would clinch not long after Labor Day. Lacking a pennant race—actually, a quasi-pennant race, since a division title is not a pennant—Cubs fans and media have been reduced to quasi-conversations.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
On barstools, on talk-radio shows, in sports pages and at backyard barbecues, Chicago baseball fans have been expressing their views on the starting rotation, how many pitchers to keep on the roster, which backup position players should be on the roster. And of course, which opponents the Cubs should prefer to play—specifically, to play the hated Cardinals. Or not to play them.
I love it. With no regular-season worries left, Cubdom moves right into fretting about the post-season.
It is a measure of the Cubs’ great season that Jake Arrieta, who put the sigh in Cy Young in the National League last season, has dropped to third on the North Side of Chicago this season. But what a been-there-done-that resume he has.
Kyle Hendricks doesn’t have the over-powering stuff of his teammates, but he has had a terrific season. He leads the National League in ERA and had a ridiculous 1.32 ERA at Wrigley Field the last time I looked.
The case for Jon Lester also is strong. He’s had an amazing string of dominant starts in which he has allowed only one or two runs. As a lefthander, he poses all kinds of challenges for opponents. And his post-season experience—two World Series with the Red Sox!—is very reassuring.
So what’s a manager to do?
Barring a hidden-ball trick, Joe Maddon and his pitching coach, Chris Bosio, seem to have settled on Lester to Hendricks to Arrieta. If it works for Joe, it works for me.
Of all the reasons to like this Cubs’ team, that’s my favorite one: Joe knows.
WAR. . . WHAT IT IS GOOD FOR?
I am a baseball-history guy, not a stat-crunching sabermetrician. I know more about war-time baseball than how players’ WARs compare. Ask me about the Hank Borowy purchase, which put Andy Pafko, Phil Cavarretta and the rest of the 1945 the Cubs over the top. Or how the Cubs and Red Sox marched around with bats on their shoulders in the World Series of 1918, and I will drone on.
But Wins Above Replacement? I have read definitions of it, and. . . yawn. I’m sure it’s accurate. But. . . yawn. I don't want to become an accountant. Whatever happened to the Eye Test?
As my cousin Michael says, respectfully quoting Edwin Starr, ``WAR? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.’’
I’m happy to let Joe Maddon handle the pitching rotation, the number of pitchers and the rest of the roster moves.
In Joe I trust.
My baseball history knowledge tells me that Maddon is basically the best Cubs’ manager—Sorry, Jolly Chollee—since Joe McCarthy—No relation to the hard-drinking red-baiting Wisconsin senator— in the 1920s. McCarthy did his best work with the Yankees, where he won seven World Series. After the Cubs fired him. There’s a backstory to that. Short version: Let Rogers Hornsby hit. But do not under any circumstances listen to his opinions.
Letting McCarthy go was the managerial equivalent of trading away game-changer Lou Brock for sore-armed Ernie Broglio.
Meanwhile, the list of Cub managers since McCarthy is not what you’d call. . . distinguished. The White Sox have had so many better managers—Tony La Russa, Al Lopez, Chuck Tanner and Paul Richards, for starters—than the Cubs. And I’ll include Ozzie Guillen because he won, and was fun.
A FULL-SERVICE MANAGER
Let’s just say that Maddon is the Cubs manager who’s best-equipped to deal with the team’s post-season drought. Leo Durocher, Jim Frey, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella—they all came up short.
When past Cubs managers would say things like, ``We aren't very good defensively,'' or ``We don't run bases very well,'' I would think, ``Well, who's fault is that?''
By contrast, to reduce the Cubs' tendency to strike out too much, Maddon came up with a drill in which hitters batted against tennis balls to improve their reactions. And his little psychological tools—the ``Try not to suck'' T shirts, for example—all are ways to quietly defuse the 108 years of pressure that will be on the Cubs's shoulders this October.
Maddon is why this post-season holds so much promise.
It’s great that the Cubs’ roster is solid. I don’t like to say a team ``has no weaknesses’’ because that leaves no wiggle room. Every team has places where it could be better. For all of their fine players, it's foolish to think the Cubs are a lock.
You’ve heard the stats. Since baseball expanded to an eight-team post-season in 1995, only four teams with the best regular-season have gone on to win the World Series. Only two of the 21 teams that have won at least 100 games since 1995 have gone on to win the World Series.
That said, this Cub team is well-built. The infield is the best the Cubs have put together in a long long time—even better, I believe, than the beloved 1969 quartet of Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Ernie Banks.
The bench players are excellent. And while you can nit-pick the pitching, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Some worriers point out that the Dodgers and Nationals have a better pitcher for one game. Inconsistency in the bullpen? Every team battles that.
Enough droning on. . .
To sum up: It’s possible to like the Cubs’ chances, and enjoy the games, without assuming they will win the World Series. It’s also possible not to worry about the pitching rotation and other personnel maneuvers.
Joe Maddon gets paid big bucks to do that. And he’s really good at that—and at defusing the excruciating pressure that accompanies a team that has endured 108 years of solitude.
If you must worry, worry about more important things in life.
Let the Cubs give you a break from that. This is supposed to be fun, not worrisome.[/membership]