The most annoying aspect of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball game between the Cubs and Cardinals (besides the final result) came during the pregame show. That's when ESPN had to remind us, yet again, of "The Curse," with footage of the black cat at Shea Stadium in 1969 and of course, the Bartman game in 2003. The Worldwide Leader seems obsessed with Bartman and just can't do a Cubs game without getting into their sordid history.
Here are a few quotes from ESPN's team of Dan Shulman, Jessica Mendoza and Aaron Boone from the broadcast.
After Mendoza cited Anthony Rizzo as the undisputed leader of the Cubs, Shulman noted, after the two-run first: "And no surprise, Rizzo and Bryant in the middle of it.''
On the Cardinals struggles, she said: "Most of the problems for the Cards have come from the mound or even more, defensively.'' As the Cubs found out the last two games of the series, the St. Louis offense is still explosive.
Boone observed,as Willson Contreras made a diving attempt to catch a foul ball: "What stands out about this Cubs team is just the athleticism that they have, all over the field and in the dugout.'
An ESPN graphic reminded us that the Cubs' postseason series win against St. Louis last year was a rarity, just the fourth since they last won the World Series.
When Shulman asked if this year's Cubs team's rise to being the best team in baseball was a surprise, Mendoza said yes, and that now the expectations have tripled. Boone added that it's ramped up now, the expectations, since the playoff win over the Cardinals: "I think the biggest challenge for the Cubs is managing all the expectations."
"As good as [Kris] Bryant and Rizzo were last year, both of them have better numbers this year,'' Shulman stated.
When Rizzo drove in the third Cub run after Bryant's triple, Boone second-guessed the Cards for not pitching around Rizzo ahead of Ben Zobrist. "I think that's one they'll kick themselves," he said.
Buster Olney chimed in to say the Cubs "are going to be one of the teams to at least talk internally about Jonathan Papelbon," citing his connections to the front office (I'm not excited about that possibility).
As the Cubs clung to a 3-1 lead in the seventh, Boone said the Cubs were "a couple of outs away from turning it over to Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman, "something they hope to do a lot over the next couple of months and on into October. Cardinals down by two with that vaunted bullpen of the Cubs lurking." (I still see the pen as the Cubs' weak link.)
Boone cited Dexter Fowler as "the guy who's not talked about enough'' and said he's the "reason why this offense is so good.''
As Rondon came in to pitch the eighth, Boone said, "This is a welcome sight for Cubs fans." (well, it was until....) With Chapman stirring in the bullpen, Mendoza proclaimed him a "superstar here in Chicago already.'' (I'd term that a slight overstatement.)
After Rondon gave up a three-run home run to Stephen Piscotty to put the Cards ahead, Boone said: "And this is just Rondon obviously missing some time and not being sharp." After he surrendered a solo shot to Moss and left the game, Shulman said, "So Rondon's return to active duty is disastrous."
When Rizzo connected to make it 6-4, Shulman's call was: "Anthony Rizzo hits one a ton and a half down the right field line. She's gone!"
In what had to be the understatement of the night, Shulman said, "It has been a struggle offensively pretty much the whole season for [Jason] Heyward."
As Chapman entered, Shulman noted that "If you're a current Cardinal you haven't had a whole lot of success against Aroldis Chapman." (27 straight scoreless innings against them, I hope he keeps that up!)
As Dexter Fowler struck out to end it, Shulman simply said: "And the Cardinals will win it.'' -- words that were not exactly music to my ears, or yours, either, most likely.
So the Sunday night team of Shulman, Mendoza and Boone is generally a good group. I much prefer them to previous ESPN teams featuring John Kruk and Curt Schilling. Once the game began, they offered solid analysis and did not again mention "The Curse," although they did cite the Cubs' miserable playoff record. They also criticized the Cardinals defense and praised the Cubs pitching and middle of the order hitters.
There were some nice touches including a visit to a Waveland rooftop. Some of the comments about the Cubs' "vaunted'' bullpen didn't ring true to me, but there were no out-of-town stupid remarks. I think Shulman is an excellent play-by-play man who makes good observations.