Tale of two teams on a mission
Cubs long overdue, but Dodgers have their main Manny
The meeting of the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in a National League Division Series, which starts on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET on TBS, is a festive gathering of storylines. And the beauty is, you don't have to pick just one -- you can sample from the entire list.
On the Cubs' side, there should be no one in North America unaware of this fact -- but it must be mentioned just to make the undertaking official -- the Cubs have not won the World Series in 100 years.
Not only that, their appearance in the 2008 postseason represents the first time since 1908 that they have qualified for consecutive postseasons. So this best-of-five series carries more than the normal load, even for October baseball.
The Cubs were the best team in the National League by a substantial margin, and they will justifiably be the favorites. In fact, they will be the favorites to be the NL representative in the World Series. You don't get to make that statement very often, either. This should not be a repeat of 2007, when the Cubs won the NL Central but were then ignominiously swept from the playoffs in the first round by Arizona. This is a much better Cubs team than that one.
There are questions. There must always be questions. Carlos Zambrano: Will he be the pitcher who threw a no-hitter at the Houston Astros, or will he be the pitcher who was rocked in his two subsequent starts? The Cubs have one of the deepest rotations in the game, and that served them well over the long season. But postseason success isn't about rotation depth, it's about a few starting pitchers performing very well. It is unsettling at best that Zambrano isn't going into the postseason on at least a modest roll.
The Cubs have the National League's best offense, by the reliable measurement of runs scored. But their run production is severely right-handed. And they will be facing the pitching staff that led the NL in team ERA. Could they get just a little help from the other side, from, for instance, Kosuke Fukudome? He was an All-Star Game starter, but his second half has largely constituted a disappearance.
On the Dodgers side, Joe Torre has already won an argument. He will be making his 13th straight postseason appearance as a manager. His former employers, the New York Yankees, had their 13-season playoff streak ended. There were reasons beyond managing that led to the demise of the 2008 Yankees. But their decline, combined with Torre's success with the Dodgers, adds another chapter to Torre's legend.
The Dodgers can hope that their pitching can counter the Cubs' offense, and this may be the major theme of this series. But what about Manny? The Ramirez story was one of baseball's best and one of baseball's strangest, all at the same time. He is a Hall of Famer in waiting, and yet, the "Manny being Manny" thing wore so thin in Boston, that, after a number of damaging incidents, the Red Sox had to get rid of him or risk losing the rest of the roster.
But with the Dodgers, he has been on his best behavior, and more to the point of the team's success, his production has been otherworldly. The Dodgers have plenty of talent, but it is not a stretch to say that one man -- one Manny -- propelled them into the postseason. Can he keep doing this? Can he take this late-season greatness and turn it into an epic October? Stay tuned.
And from a neutral, good-for-baseball viewpoint, this series will feature two of the finest young catchers in the game. The Dodgers' Russell Martin has already made his mark as an accomplished catcher and a versatile offense talent. Geovany Soto, the likely NL Rookie of the Year, is making his own reputation as a two-way catcher of the first rank.
Will this series be a steppingstone as the Cubs attempt to make history and break history all in one October? Or will the Dodgers' late-season surge, fueled by substantial pitching and Manny being better than anybody with the bat, continue? This series should be made of the stuff that makes postseason baseball a singular treat.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.