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Well, here we are at the championship series dates, with some of the longest-standing, most tradition-laden franchises participating...

the Yankees, with their dozens of World Championships...

the Red Sox, with their fans in Red Sox Nation and their agonizing history of losing World Series...

the Cubs, with their national following and their quest to end 58 years (NL pennant) and 95 years (World Championship) of futility...

and the Marlins ????

This upstart franchise has now made the postseason twice in its first 11 years of existence, both times as a wild card, and this time almost totally unexpectedly, after firing their manager, Jeff Torborg, when they were 16-22. They nearly traded their only All-Star, Mike Lowell, to the Cubs of all people, and instead wound up losing him anyway for a month with a broken hand. They lost A. J. Burnett, one of their best pitchers, for the season. Didn't matter. They are now probably the hottest team in the postseason, having gone 21-8 to finish the regular season and 3-1 in the NLCS (though the Cubs went 19-8 and 3-2, only a game or so worse).

The Marlins took advantage of every break they were given against the Giants. By all rights they should have lost game two, only to capitalize on some horrid San Francisco errors and baserunning, and had SF won game two, they'd have probably swept the series. But once the stuffing was taken out of them, then having to go on the road, that was it. Give credit to Jack McKeon for preparing his team well to take advantage of things like that.

But the Marlins didn't see pitching like the Cubs have in the Division Series. And when they did see it this year -- Kerry Wood pretty much shut down their offense, as did Carlos Zambrano, who will have to step up big-time tonight.

The Florida offense, though good, doesn't have the big thumpers that Atlanta does, and the Cub staff shut them down anyway. What is key in this series for the Cubs is to keep Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, the top two men in the Florida lineup, off base. If they can do that, this series can be won easily.

From the Cub offensive viewpoint, it is time for Sammy Sosa to step up and wear the superstar mantle he's worn for the last six seasons. Even missing 25 games this year, he scored 99 runs, drove in 103 and hit 40 homers, and with his injuries, it's a credit to his tremendous talent that he even got that far. But he's been pretty invisible in the postseason, and it's time for him to be "SAMMYSOSA", the guy who carries a team, as we have seen him do so many times, but not this season.

Even though ideally, the Cubs would have liked to have Wood and Mark Prior throwing the first two games of the series, they are now tabbed for games six and seven (Prior, then Wood), and that could work as well as the Johnson/Schilling tandem did for Arizona in so many postseasons. If Carlos Zambrano can step up and win game one tonight, with Prior and Wood in games two and three, this could be a very short series.

I don't want to get overconfident or make any predictions. But it is time. We have suffered enough.

Let's win it.