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3. Cashing in on Moneyball
The Red Sox, with their two world titles in four years, have set the postseason model. A team that is patient and hits for power the Moneyball way originally preached by Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and perfected by the Sox prevails. These Cubbies fit that mold. Chicago led the National League in both walks and that sacrosanct benchmark for the stat heads, on-base percentage plus slugging, or OPS.
"That's a lethal combination," explains Wren. "Teams that are on base a lot, they wear down starting pitching and get you to that second-tier pitching faster. We've all seen in the postseason how that's very tough on you. There aren't a lot of clubs that have the depth to handle that, night in and night out, especially with the intensity of the postseason."
It's true that the Red Sox enter the playoffs with more walks and a higher OPS than the Cubs. But since pitchers don't hit in the American League, those numbers tend to skew higher in the junior circuit. Bottom line: if the Cubs can stay patient and pound like they've done all summer, it'll be a fun fall on the North Side.
4. Lou Is Due
This will be Cubs manager Lou Piniella's sixth trip to the playoffs since 1990, the year he led the Cincinnati Reds to the title. In all that time, he hasn't gotten back to the Series. Here's a guy who has won everywhere he's been (can we just exclude that stint in Tampa, where God would have lost with those Devil Rays?), reversing the fortunes of the Reds, the Seattle Mariners and now the Cubs. He's long been one of the best in the game, and it's about time he ended that drought. "I would think he'd be due," says Pat Gillick, GM of the NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies, and Piniella's old boss in Seattle, "unless he meets us in the playoffs."
Piniella, 65, is more balanced and composed now than in his younger days. He no longer tosses bases or crushes watercoolers except on the TV ads that play on his feisty image. "With his reputation, you're expecting this guy to be yelling and screaming every day," says Chicago first baseman Derrek Lee, a Cub since 2004 (Piniella joined the team last season). "It's not really like that." McCarver, a longtime friend of Piniella's, has seen a new Lou too. "His transformation has been more than subtle," he says. Yes, he's still brutally honest with his players, but he's pulled back the histrionics. He's been ejected just twice this year. "When Lou hit 60, he finally matured," jokes Gillick.
A lighter Lou is ideal for this Cub team, which is heavy with veterans like Lee, closer Kerry Wood and utilityman Mark DeRosa. "Lou doesn't need to tell them how to do their business," says Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. Seasoned players tune out fire and brimstone. "He's the perfect manager for that ballclub right now," says Towers.
5. It's Just Karma, Man
Excuse us for going all cosmic, but a Cubs title just feels right in '08. Think about the year we've had in sports. A classic Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots. Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open, in overtime, on one leg. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at Wimbledon. Michael Phelps. Usain Bolt.
A Cubs title, on the eve of the most anticipated presidential election in history, with a candidate who just happens to be from Chicago (though Obama is a White Sox fan) it's the perfect story line. And in a year of extraordinary sports stories, why shouldn't we be blessed with one more: putting a century-long Cubbies curse to rest for good.