Cubs have a chance to make history
After century of heartache, title could return to North Side
CHICAGO -- The 2008 Chicago Cubs, through absolutely no fault of their own, are heirs to a burden of history.
They deserve better. Perhaps they will achieve more and end the disappointment, the dismay, the depression. They believe that they can be the ones to make rain out of this drought, to end the 100-year streak between World Series championships.
Ryan Dempster predicted at the outset of Spring Training that this would be what happened. Dempster did his bit, going 14-3 at Wrigley Field, which is why he will be the Game 1 starter on Wednesday night against the Dodgers in a National League Division Series.
Dempster said that he had not planned on making this bold prediction. He simply arrived at Spring Training, took a good look around at all the talent and believed that the Cubs could win it all.
"When I said that, it was not premeditated," Dempster said on Tuesday before the Cubs' workout at Wrigley Field. "It wasn't something I sat at home and said: 'This is what I'm going to say when I go to the park that day.' When I got there and I saw everybody, it was something I truly felt."
Cubs players are dogged by questions about the 100 years. It comes with the territory. It is the cloud formation that accompanies every sunny day at the Friendly Confines. The questions have been there for a long time, but now they have this big, fat, round number accompanying them. This is one of those situations that has definitely not been eased with the passage of time.
"It's a very interesting place to play," Dempster said with a small smile. That was a very polite way of putting it.
These players are not responsible for the vast majority of those 100 years in which a World Series championship did not come to the North Side.
They did not allow a summer of infinite promise to become a September of everlasting regret in 1969. They did not cough up a two-game lead to an inferior San Diego team in the 1984 postseason. A black cat did not cross their paths. A ground ball did not go through their legs. They didn't have anything to do with the Billy Goat, either.
Nor were they responsible for all those seasons in which the postseason was a concept that did not exist for the Cubs, except in the realm of the imagination.
This group of players is being asked to change all of that. In some quarters, it is being expected to change all of that. On the one hand, this is a heavy load to carry. On the other hand, winning is what good teams do. The Cubs were validated over the long haul of the 2008 regular season, with the NL's best record. So their October aspirations do not seem dreamy, or naïve. They seem to be the next natural step.
"There's an air of confidence about this team," said Mark DeRosa, whose own versatility and productive play has been indispensable. "We have a balanced lineup throughout. Our pitching staff is deep. Our bullpen is strong.
"Every team presents challenges. I like to look at it as the challenges we present to the other team."
When Dempster was asked, in the context of the 100 years of futility, if getting back to the postseason was a relief, he responded with the correct answer:
"I don't think that the guys in the locker room really have any relief for getting there. I think the goal is bigger than that.
"We're glad to be back. To win back-to-back division championships is not an easy thing to do. It hasn't been done here in a long time, and hopefully we can continue this. But, I think, the general consensus of our team is we want more than that."
Manager Lou Piniella summarized the outlook of his ballclub by saying: "Our club is confident, as I'm sure the Dodgers are, and we're going to go out and play as well as we can, as hard as we can, for as long as we can. And that's it. We know what everybody in this city wants, and we're going to try to give it to them."
That is the fundamental task. Yet for so many predecessors of this club, it was never finished. Here is the difference between this Cubs team and so many that have come before:
This is a team that should win the NL pennant. This is a team that is not supposed to be beaten by the Dodgers or the Phillies or the Brewers, the rest of the NL postseason package. This is the best Cubs team in at least 39 years. (Those of us who were not around for the 1945 World Series appearance have no real means of comparison there.) This is a team with balance, with diverse strengths, with no single facet that screams out: "That will eventually beat them."
The World Series is something else. There are three American League teams (Angels, Red Sox, Rays) roughly as good as the Cubs. But we're not there yet.
Where we are is the onset of October, with the record clearly showing an even century since the last Cubs World Series championship. Last October, at the 99-year mark, the Cubs were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks at this very level. But this is a different October and a better Cubs team. Now it gets to demonstrate if it is good enough to make history, break history, and also throw history aside and just keep winning.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.