The End

I'm sure you all know that before every series, and especially before a postseason series, major league teams send one, or in some cases many, advance scouts to watch the teams they're going to be playing.

They do this to get information to the players and coaches about those teams, so they might get every possible edge in defeating their opponent.

And thus, the Division Series that the Cubs lost to the Diamondbacks essentially came down to this: the D'backs made use of their advance scouting reports and the Cubs didn't.

This sounds like "Master of the Obvious", but it's the only explanation I can come up with for the Cubs' 5-1 loss to the Diamondbacks Saturday night, completing the series sweep and sending us home once again to a bitter winter. If your scouts know that Chris Young jumps often on the first pitch -- then why would you throw him a fastball on the first pitch? Ever?

Rich Hill even acknowledged this:

"I should've known," Hill said. "He's been doing it all year, jumping on that first pitch, and he did it again."

Nine of Young's 34 career home runs have come on the first pitch, an absurd ratio.

"Yeah," Hill said, "I wasn't expecting it."

Well, hang on just a second there, Bucko. He's been doing it all year, but you weren't expecting it? How can you say that? Obviously, your scouting reports told you this, and you chose to ignore it. And that home run sucked the air and much of the pregame joy out of the largest crowd of the year at Wrigley Field -- 42,157, the largest crowd, in fact, since the fire department came through after 45,777 crammed the ballpark on Opening Day 1978 and told management they just couldn't put that many people in Wrigley Field any more.

Hill briefly righted the ship with a couple of strikeouts, but then Justin Upton singled in the second run of the inning -- and the game might as well have ended right there, because that was all the runs the D'backs would need.

Incidentally, that Jeff Passan Yahoo column I linked above brings up the "99 years" thing. I'm really, really, really tired of hearing that from national as well as local columnists. Or nonsense like this. What should be written about are things like this, a Phil Rogers column with which I completely agree:

With the bases loaded and one out, the Cubs trailing Arizona by two runs, [Mark] DeRosa was in position to capitalize on Livan Hernandez's wildness. The Arizona starter had walked three of four batters in the inning, throwing three times as many balls as strikes. A walk would force in a run and provide a spark, but DeRosa couldn't lay off the 3-1 pitch, a borderline offering at--or just below--the bottom of the strike zone.

Yet another example of not following the scouting reports. Arizona's Game 2 starter Doug Davis even mentioned this -- that he couldn't believe the Cubs didn't try to take more advantage of his inability to throw strikes. Same thing last night -- it was well known not only to the Cubs, but to all of us, that Hernandez couldn't throw strikes (and didn't; only 54 in 101 pitches), and the Cubs DID manage to walk five times. But in a case like that, with the score only 3-1 in the fifth inning, the bases loaded and one out and a real chance to still make a game of it, you absolutely, positively have to make sure that if you swing, you're swinging at a hittable pitch. With the count 3-1 -- if you take a strike, it's 3-2, runners moving and a chance to tie the game on a single. And if it's ball four -- and that pitch probably was -- you've scored a run, cut the deficit to a single run, kept the bases loaded, and probably made Bob Melvin go to his bullpen. Wrigley Field was rocking for perhaps the only time last night -- it didn't even feel that loud in the pre-game lineup announcements, when the tone should have been set for the night. For one pitch, it was louder than it had been all year and perhaps louder than it had ever been; and then DeRosa swung, hitting into the third of four double plays, and though there were four innings to go, we all knew that was pretty much that.

There have been some hints in the blogosphere and elsewhere that this 85-win Cub team didn't "deserve" to go to the postseason because of its record; to them I say -- the entire National League was pretty compressed in both talent and record, and there wasn't much to differentiate the four playoff teams, except their abilities to take advantage of the other team's weaknesses. The Diamondbacks, bearers of the NL's best record, won only 90 games, the lowest total to lead the league since the 162-game schedule was instituted, and the five-game difference between the two teams' regular-season record amounts to less than one win per month. And tell that to the 89-win Phillies, who will also sit home all winter and wonder what went wrong, as they also got swept out of the first round, losing 2-1 to the Rockies in Denver. TV executives must be ready to commit ritual suicide in anticipation of a Colorado-Arizona NLCS -- which, because MLB doesn't move up playoff series if previous rounds wind up in sweeps, won't start for five days, not till Thursday, taking away much of any momentum that either of the first round's winners might have.

But that's a subject for another day. About yesterday's game, played in incredibly warm temperatures for October 6 (it wasn't a record, but the game-time temperature of 82 degrees this late in the year was very, very rare, and so was the bizarre little downpour that hit Wrigleyville about 2:30, just before the ballpark gates opened, drenching the area surrounding Wrigley Field, but nowhere else) -- despite the record crowd, it never felt too packed in in the bleachers, because all seats were reserved; there were a few people standing on the stairs next to us, but not many. While there were no incidents in our section, I did hear of a couple of ejections elsewhere in left field, for throwing things onto the field. Fortunately, in the late innings when it was clear the game was gone, only one thing was thrown onto the field, a bottle of water that landed far from anyone on the newly-planted sod (which looked pretty good after less than two weeks to "take", and which now, apparently, will be ripped up again as the entire field will be resodded and lowered by about a foot). Apart from the bases-loaded moment ruined by DeRosa, we had little to cheer about and the atmosphere was far more subdued than you'd expect at a playoff game. Even the streets behind us, blocked off in anticipation of thousands of people gathering outside, were relatively empty. David, who's taken so many great photos for this site, didn't have a ticket for last night's game (he did for today's) -- was outside; I ran into him on the way home, and this morning I found this photo he took of me from Waveland Avenue, which sums everything up, I think, quite well.

And so we disperse, fans and players alike, for winter. It was nice to see BCB readers jb (who reminded me that the Cubs had, until last night, won every game that he'd come up to me in the bleachers and said "hi"), timeforachange, jessica and dfrancon, and I know there were other BCB readers in attendance; sorry I missed you! Jeff and Mark, who had Bears tickets in Green Bay tonight but sold them, are heading up there anyway. We'll likely all gather to watch one of the games of the World Series at Mike's, as we do each year -- that is, if it's not snowed out in Denver if the Rockies advance. And we'll argue and debate about where the Cubs should go, and what changes should be made, and about the upcoming sale of the team, which likely won't be completed in time to make any wholesale management changes before next season begins.

But those are subjects for another day. We are disappointed this day, though it doesn't feel as bad as it did in 2003, because this team never got as close to the Promised Land as we were four years ago, nor was this team as talented. While the decision to remove Carlos Zambrano from game one can be, and has been, endlessly debated (we joked that we should all gather at noon today at the ballpark and have Z throw, because it's a beautiful day and he's rested and ready), the Cubs didn't lose this series because of that. They lost the series because Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez went 2-for-26 with nine strikeouts, and because Ted Lilly and Rich Hill approached their starts like scared little kids instead of major leaguers, and because, as I noted above, the Cubs didn't pay attention to their scouting reports.

Enough. We did have a good share of excitement and thrills this season, far more than last, and the 19-game improvement in the regular season does give hope for 2008. Is that enough? No, it's not enough. We go home for yet another winter crestfallen and heartbroken.

For now, I won't say anything more about 2008. There will be enough time to dissect possibilities. For now, I first want to thank you for all the kind words you've written about me and about this site in various places here -- there's no way I can answer each and every one of them. BCB is a labor of love, as I'm sure you already know, but it's all of you who make this the great community that it is, and will continue to be. I'll post threads for the upcoming playoff games, if you have the stomach to watch and discuss them, and after a time, we can begin to move forward to yet another "next year".

In the meantime, I'm going to end this post the way I end every season; BCB reader tjchawk kind of beat me to it last night with this diary, but the words of the late baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti are, as ever, worth revisiting:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.
Until March 31, 2008, that is, at Wrigley Field, when the Cubs will open the season against the Milwaukee Brewers, and we shall once again have hopes and dreams of victory.
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