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Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Right Way to Lose

Yes, like every Cubs fan, I'm in mourning. It isn't often that we come so close. But, in all honesty, we weren't really that close. The Cubs entered the postseason with a record five games worse than any other playoff contender. And they didn't exactly surge into October. They were an unspectacular 17-12 in the final month (even though they faced only one team with a winning record) and 2-4 in the final week (including three straight losses against the worst team in the NL East).

Against their first round competitor, the Diamondbacks, who sported the league's best record, the Cubs had gone 2-4 during the regular season and 8-19 since 2004. The D-Backs top three - Webb, Davis, and Livan - had combined to go 21-12 against the lovable losers in their careers. While the Cubs top three - Zambrano, Lilly, and Hill - had gone 2-5. Not exactly the best possible draw. There was very little besides sentimentality to give a Cubs fan hope. But, then again, we're rarely armed with anything more than that.

The beauty of this year's Cubs failure is that they were never within an out, an inning, or a game of advancing. They had only one lead. And it lasted less than an inning. No D-Backs outfielder kept a critical home run out of the stands. There were no black cats, no botched grounders, no unearned runs, and, thank goodness, no fan interference. The Cubs lost this the old-fashioned way. They stranded 54 runners in three games. Their three best hitters - Soriano, Ramirez, and Lee - combined to hit .158 with one run and no RBIs, striking out in an astounding 33% of their plate appearances. Their best reliever, Carlos Marmol - he of the 1.43 regular season ERA - gave up two homers in three innings pitched. Marmol had allowed three dingers in 69 innings during the regular season. Their Game 2 starter, Ted Lilly, had by far his worst (and shortest) outing of the year, walking four and giving up six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.

All in all, the Cubs recipe of mediocre pitching and bad situational hitting makes for a pretty predictable early exit. No curse required.

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