It’s gonna happen

IUS Horizon

Chicago Cubs
Chicago Cubs

For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of the Chicago Cubs.

They have supplied me with uncountable heartbreaking moments since the late ’80s. My first vivid memories of the Cubs are from the 1989 season, of a team that included Greg Maddux, Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg, just to name a few.

It is fitting that my first memories of this cursed franchise are of an extremely talented team that could not close the deal. The 1989 Chicago Cubs lost the National League Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants, 4-1.

Well, it’s almost 20 years later and the Cubbies have continued to break my heart, but this year, the 100 year anniversary of the Cubs’ last World Series victory,  is the year the Cubs break the Curse of the Billy Goat and return to the World Series.

This year’s edition of the Chicago Cubs is built for post-season success. They have a deep and talented starting pitching rotation, including a trio of aces that no team should want to face in a five or seven game series, a solid bullpen and one of the best lineups in baseball.

Not to mention the Cubs are clearly the class of the National League, the Cubs are seven games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in the race for the best record in the NL with 11 games left to play.

There is no team that should not fear the Cubs’ starting pitching if they were to have to face it in an October series. The first three pitchers in the Cubbie rotation, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden have a combined 35 wins against only 12 losses and 442 strikeouts. Harden was not a member of the Cubs until July when he was acquired from the Oakland Athletics.

History tells us teams with this kind of starting pitching are extremely tough to beat in October.

If the starting pitching for the Cubs is having an off night, manager Lou Pinella has plenty of arms in his arsenal with one of the strongest bullpens in Major League Baseball.

Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood have been very effective in the late innings, often coming on and closing the door on opposing offenses.

Samardzija made his major league debut on July 25 and has been lights out every since. A fastball that reaches the high nineties and an improving assortment of breaking pitches has helped Samardzija to a solid 2.25 earned run average and 21 strikeouts in only 24 innings of work.

Marmol, the set-up man for Kerry Wood, is arguably the nastiest of the Cubs’ relief pitchers, looking unhittable at times.
Marmol was named to the National League All-Star Team for the first time in his career this season and has struck out 113 batters in 84.1 innings this season. He has one of the lowest ERAs in the Cubs’ bullpen at 2.67.

The oft-injured Wood is not the pitcher he once was, but he has embraced the closer role and has been very effective. He is tied for fourth place in the NL with 31 saves in 31 chances.

Although Wood does not have the same stuff he did when he struck out 20 batters in a game as a rookie, I am more than comfortable when Pinella hands him the ball in the ninth inning.

I would argue there is not a more solid line-up top to bottom in baseball than that of the Cubs.

The Cubs are near the top of the National League in all major statistical categories and have four players, Aramis Ramirez, Derek Lee, Geovany Soto and Mark DeRosa, in their line-up with over 80 runs batted in.

This list does not include the most dangerous lead-off man in baseball Alfonso Soriano, who has 29 homeruns and 72 RBIs.

The Cubs have received timely hitting all season long and Ramirez had emerged as one of the best clutch hitters in the game.

All of the reasons listed above are reason enough to understand the slogan for this team has been “It’s Gonna Happen,” but there has been a different feel to this season than in any I can remember.

In the past once one thing goes wrong with the Cubs, things seem to spiral out of control, but that has not been the case this year.

Just recently the people were starting to write the Cubs off after they lost eight of nine games, but unlike the Cubbies of past years, they bounced back, winning five of their next six games.

Thursday’s game was a good microcosm for this season. The Cubs trailed the Brewers 6-2 heading into the ninth inning.

Soto tied the game with a three-run homerun with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Cubs went on to win when Derek Lee hit an RBI single in the bottom of the twelfth inning. They refused to say die, just as they have all season.

Only time will tell if this is the year the Cubs return to the World Series, but if they don’t do it this year it may never happen. I bet I’m not the first person to say that.

By ERIC MCGUFFIN
Editor
demcguff@ius.edu