I’ve got the Cubs going to the World Series, a pronouncement should be greeted with enough grains of salt to safeguard Chicago’s roadways through the harshest winter.
Here’s why: Carlos Zambrano is glaring at me all snarly-faced as I type this, from the cover of a soft-cover book entitled This is the Year: the Historic Chicago Cubs.
The book was published in 2008. I was its editor. If a first-round playoff sweep by the Los Angeles Dodgers was your idea of The Year (itals), we were spot-on.
Declining revenue had newspapers in panic mode by 2008, so anybody who produced an idea that might make a few bucks had a shot at publisher. We’d hit it big five years earlier with Out of the Blue, a similar venture on the 2003 Cubs that succeeded because the whole five-outs-away thing was so unexpected.
Literary merit aside, the ‘03 book made money, so some big thinkers above me saw every subsequent three-game winning streak as an occasion to crank up the presses. I was branded an infidel for suggesting we wait until the ‘08 team had achieved something beyond best regular-season record before we memorialized them—I knew my Cubs.
I never saw the final figures, but I’d bet it sold tens. It’s a pretty good book … and I can get you a box to provide some rear-end stability if your car tends to fishtail in slippery weather.
Full disclosure: I had the Cubs going to the 2015 World Series, too. With Jake Arrieta on an invincible run, I figured they’d handle the Pirates in the wild-card game, and once they exorcised the Cardinals in the division series, what could stop them?
Mets pitching, as it developed — something a lot of us underrated — as well as their unfamiliarity with the big stage. It wasn’t as evident in the division series — they play the Cardinals three times a month during the regular season, after all — but the stakes grow palpably higher as the playoffs progress, and the young Cubs didn’t seem ready for the moment.
They’re a year older, they’ve got the experience of 2015 behind them and, most important, they’re a really good team, with obvious camaraderie, enviable depth and an innovative manager who knows how to use it.
And no discernible holes. Can that be said of any other National League aspirant?
The Nationals’ rotation isn’t nearly as sturdy without Stephen Strasburg. Injuries to their starters leave the Mets looking less well-armed as well. The Cardinals can mash, but they don’t pitch or catch with anything approaching their customary efficiency. The Giants can’t score, their bullpen is toxic and they looked tired and bedraggled during a visit to Wrigley earlier this month.
The Dodgers are the great unknown, as they were in 1988, when Orel Hershiser and a band of no-names slew the mighty Mets and the mightier Oakland A’s in the postseason. The lineup doesn’t scare you, but they have the pitching to win the 3-2 games, and a fire-breathing closer to nail them down.
Sort of like the Cubs, who can also beat you 9-4. I go back a while with baseball, and I can’t remember a team bringing five young, star-quality players to the big leagues in roughly the same time frame as the Cubs have done with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras. Make it six with Kyle Schwarber.
Too bad Schwarber is not around to play shortstop as Joe Maddon does some mad-scientist tinkering with his lineup while resting his regulars over these last three weeks. And it’s regrettable that Jorge Soler left Friday’s game with another injury; he needs extended playing time so the Cubs can determine what they have with him.
Soler awed the crowd with one of the hardest hit homers Wrigley has seen this season in Thursday’s faux clincher against the Brewers, but five innings later he looked like a 24-year-old frat boy who’d spent too much time on Clark Street as he wobbled after Scooter Gennett’s two-run double into the left-field corner.
A verdict on Soler will influence the Cubs’ thinking on Dexter Fowler — they should bring him back — and down the line a core player might have to be sacrificed in trade for starting pitching; Kyle Hendricks is their only starter under 30, and John Lackey is under contract only one more year.
But those are future concerns. The present is what matters to the Cubs and a fan base grown giddy with anticipation.
Is 2016 The Year? (itals) Book it.