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16th 2003
"Good Chicago Sports"
Yes, They're Still Our Cubs

by Tim Polko

Chicago Cubs

Steve Bartman will wear goat horns in Chicago lore forever, but we see a dozen usual and unusual suspects to blame for the Cubs' choking on a giant school of Marlin.

Alex S. Gonzalez deserves a Hall of Shame slot right next to Leon Durham as Gonzo's 8th inning error in Game 6 finished transferring all momentum from Wrigley's third base dugout to the first base side.

Mark Prior, obviously tired after compiling more pitches than anyone this season other than Kerry Wood and Barry Zito, never recovered after the foul ball. The poised youngster finally lost his cool, yet neither Baker, nor Larry Rothschild, nor Damian Miller, nor any other infielder approached the mound to calm him. Prior walked Castillo, allowed a couple of hard hit balls, and then departed the game, giving Kyle Farnsworth, one of the best relievers on any team in the post-season, the opportunity to enrage Cubs' fans even further. Maybe a more rested Prior, who pitched 116 pitches in Game 2 despite a 10-run lead, could have held Florida for five more outs.

Dusty's decision to ignore the Cubs' 25th man roster spot throughout the post-season ranks among his biggest mistakes. Juan Cruz warmed up fewer times than any other reliever pitched, and while we understand the need to keep a long reliever, Cruz's stuff is second only to Farnsworth among Chicago relievers.

If Dusty wasn't going to rely on Cruz as our KRod, Hee Seop Choi, who could have filled the roster spot of Corey Patterson, would have given the Cubs another needed lefty bat on the bench. He hit right-handers better than any other first baseman on the team, so instead of the Cubs going down to defeat in Game 7 with Alex Gonzalez and Paul Bako batting, maybe Hee Seop could have worked a walk to extend the game.

A more fundamental mistake occurred in Game 7 after Tom Goodwin and Troy O'Leary batted for Damian Miller and the pitcher in the 8th inning. O'Leary's homer at least validated his season-long presence on the Cubs' roster, but why did Baker immediately pull Goodwin and O'Leary from the game?

Lofton ended the 7th inning, so Baker could have pulled him, left Tom Goodwin's superior center field defense in the game in the #8 hole, placed Paul Bako in the 9th spot, and slotted the pitcher 1st. In the bottom of the 9th, a smart manager might have had Ramirez leading off, followed by Choi, Simon, Goodwin, Bako, and then either Ramon E. Martinez or Doug Glanville to pinch-hit. As the Marlins don't possess a single reliever capable of regularly dominating left-handed bats, the Cubs at least would have been in a superior position to rally.

We see plenty of "experts" ranting about how the story is that the Marlins won the series, not that the Cubs lost the series, but that statement simply ignores the facts. The Chicago Cubs, with the opportunity to erase 58 years of heartbreak, choked in the clutch. Chicago lost this series; Florida did not "win" it. Like many other teams based on pitching, speed, and defense, they simply put themselves in position to take advantage of the multitude of mistakes committed by the Cubs.

Chicago lost because Dusty doesn't know how to run a pitching staff.

Chicago lost because the Cubs don't realize consistently high on-base percentages are worth lofty strikeout totals.

Chicago lost because the Cubs' braintrust believes the defensive value of Paul Bako outweighs his offensive incompetence, and that the veteran presence of Antonio Alfonseca is more important than keeping a potential contributor like Choi or Estes on the roster.

Chicago lost because even taking a goat to Houston, getting denied admittance to Minute Maid Park, and transferring the curse to the Astros doesn't compensate for the multitude of problems that caused the Cubs to finish the season with the worst record among all 8 playoffs teams.

Yet we don't completely mind losing. The best part of the pain is that all the recent bandwagon hoppers now know the sorrow of long-time Chicagoans. Our Cubs experienced a relatively unprecedented improvement this season. Unless Jim Hendry believes the best course of action is to re-sign Gary Gaetti and Mickey Morandini, or rather Mark Grudzielanek and Randall Simon, Chicago should remain competitive in the NL Central indefinitely.

We should know within weeks that Kerry Wood and Sammy Sosa will stay in Chicago through the next couple seasons. Dusty Baker, Corey Patterson, Hee Seop Choi, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Juan Cruz, Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle Farnsworth, and Joe Borowski all are stuck here through at least 2006. Matt Clement and Mike Remlinger will return in 2004, as should Moises Alou, Damian Miller, and Alex S. Gonzalez. Aramis Ramirez requires a long-term extension, so we only need to add a decent second baseman this winter, and we see a half-dozen excellent candidates available this off-season.

As usual, we don't approve of trading anyone on the 40-man roster that played above AA if at all possible. Chicago can use trades of low-level prospects for potential non-tenders, as well as free agency, to supplement the current roster. The Cubs' core of talent will enable them to compete for division championship as long as Prior and Wood remain healthy.

Six playoff wins still make 2004 the most successful Cubs' season in 58 years. A few minor upgrades over the following months should place Chicago in position to win that elusive seventh game in 2004.

Until Steve Goodman can rest in peace, these are your Good Chicago Sports.

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