Sunday, September 21, 2008

Count Me Out

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Count me out of the group of Cub fans who thought this season was going to be handed to them. Count me out of the group who thought that September would simply be a victory lap. Count me out of those who weren't greatly concerned about some aspects of this team--even when they were 35 games over. Count me out of the guys who got all excited when the Cubs had built up an eye-popping record at the end of a home game-heavy first couple of months.

I've always prided myself in being an even-keel Cub fan. And I think that has come particularly in handy this year. Sure those gaudy records atop the MLB standings all season long have been nice. But not comfortable. Never comfortable.

And while you're at it, count me out of the woe-is-us Cub fan crowd. No I don't believe in curses. No I don't believe in wait 'til next year. And no I don't believe in "this is our year." I just like Cubs baseball. It's that simple. Some people stop following their baseball teams once they're eliminated or if they're not having a winning season. Those aren't baseball fans. Baseball fans care 162 times. They don't take a day off. Even meaningless games in September. When the Cubs were a 60-win team...I listened/watched to the end. If the Cubs were to clinch the division early this year, I'll watch the meaningless games before the playoffs begin.

Count me out of the group waiting for the other shoe to drop. The national media is talking of this antsy, paranoid Cub fan--apparently half-covering his eyes, afraid to look. Who is this guy? I just like to watch the games and root for them. Count me out of those who think a choke is waiting to happen. And count me out of those wondering how they'll let us down this year. I'm only in my 20s. I don't know a hundred years of suffering. I don't even know decades of suffering for that matter. I don't know Leon Durham. I don't know 1969. I know no goat. All I know is that Dad raised me to enjoy Cubs baseball. All I know is a franchise that hasn't won it all, but has been reasonably successful since I've been alive. A playoff appearance this season would mean three in the last six years. I know a lot of teams who would take that in a second. So no...I'm not apprehensive about what's around the corner. If they lose, they lose. But this is the '08 team. Its own roster. What does Steve Bartman have to do with Ryan Theriot? How does Geovany's Soto success or failure relate at all to Alex Gonzalez? It doesn't. This is this group. This season.

A Reds' TV announcer said the other that this run to the playoffs might not be the cakewalk that all Cub fans thought it would be. Is the guy insane? (Well...I know he is because earlier he had called the fans who had taken the time to travel to Cincinnati for the weekend "fairweather fans." I know this...if there's one fan base in the entire scope of sport that can NEVER be called fairweather, it would be Cub fans.) But anyway...any Cub fan I talked to who actually knew anything about baseball knew this thing might come down to the final week.

Anyone who actually glanced at this September schedule knew that--the Cubs had no choice but to get out to that outrageous start! September was FULL of games on the road against teams with winning records. So no, I didn't get ahead of myself when the Cubs went out and did what they absolutely had to almost all of their home games early. I've been dreading the September series at Shea Stadium all year. I'm the guy who's said you better have at least a three game lead over Milwaukee heading to Miller park the final weekend of the season. Just to be safe.

But also...with the Cubs' recent slide and offensive is it a surprise? This is a team that has flirted with the best record all season long--without guys having good seasons. Carlos Zambrano has been hurt. Twice. Alfonso Soriano has been hurt. Twice. And his numbers are way down this year. Aramis Ramirez' production is not nearly what it should be. Derrek Lee is going for the world record in hitting into double plays and only has 19 HRs. Jim Edmonds is hitting in the .230s. Kosuke Fukudome is so bad he can't even stay in the lineup. Anybody who is just now starting to get concerned about the holes in this roster hasn't been paying much attention.

So...provided that the Cubs make it to the playoffs, I won't be surprised at anything. I do think they're better than in 2007, so hopefully they don't get swept again. When they got swept out of the playoffs 3-0 by Arizona last year everyone was beside themselves. How could they choke like that?!?!? Really? Choke? That was only an 85-win team last year! They had a lot of three game losings streaks during the course of the year. In fact, the Marlins (the 66-90 Marlins, by the way) swept them in the final week of the season--games the Cubs felt like they had to win!!! So why wouldn't the division-winning Diamondbacks be able to do the same?

Someone remarked to me the other day--discussing the Cubs good season so far. "I just hope they don't choke in the playoffs." I was like...well good teams beat good teams every year in the playoffs. Baseball is a weird game. The playoffs are always a crapshoot. Every year there are seven good teams that get sent packing from the postseason. Who's to say? It's baseball. Anyone can beat anyone. The Mariners even beat the Angels this year. It's baseball. Especially in a best of five.

You just want to get to the postseason. That's the tough part. Just get there. After that, you gotta hope the ball bounces your way a few times here and there. But once you reset those records at 0-0, nothing's guaranteed. I'll take my chances with Ryan Dempster and Geovany soto and Mark DeRosa and Carlos Marmol. But win or lose, this group has accomplished a ton of special things during the course of a grueling baseball season.