Our guys choked down the stretch.
I don't know if it was because they couldn't handle the pressure or if they simply ran out of gas at the end of the season, but the Diamondbacks certainly didn't suffer from whatever it is that Piniella's boys did.
You can't take credit away from the Diamondbacks pitching staff, but the Cubs' 2-for-23 was absolutely unacceptable. Even Ryan Theriot broke character, swinging at a 3-1 pitch twice throughout the game, both of which resulted in ground ball outs. Aramis Ramirez's 0-for-12 was ridiculous and Alfonso Soriano was equally useless in the series. Carlos Marmol appeared to be struggling in the final weeks of the season and while he was able to get away with it in the regular season, he wasn't so lucky in the playoffs.
Rich Hill and Ted Lilly also appeared to be pitching scared and our batters seemed like they couldn't deal with the pressure of playing behind. We saw the Cubs battle back time-and-time again this year, but we also saw the Cubs trying too hard to be the hero -- trying too hard to hit the big homerun. The large number of double plays we saw and the guys pressing too hard with runners in scoring position was a prime example of guys not being disciplined enough to just keep the line moving.
Besides, the team was trying to get all three games at once after falling behind 2-0. When asked, both Mark DeRosa and Soriano publically stated that they were trying to win three games in a row, instead of taking one game at a time. It's an inappropriate attitude that ended in our demise.
However, as painful as this loss was, we have to look back at the season and think of the successes. Never mind how much we spent over the off-season, the 2006 Cubs finished dead last in the National League, posting a 66-96 record. One year later, not only did the Cubs improve by 19 games and win a division championship for the first time since 2003, we battled back from an 8 1/2 game hole. No one can take that away from us.
We'll get another shot in the playoffs, and it won't take another four years. Even if the Brewers are getting older and better, the Cubs with just a few key strikes to the free-agent market should be able to keep pace, especially since most of the team is already set to return for the 2008 season; we don't need another Alfonso Soriano (or Alex Rodriguez) signing to remain competitive. Among the NL Central teams, we definitely have the most players already under contract for next year. Many of the Brewers aren't eligible for free agency, but they are eligible for salary arbitration. It would be interesting to see how much of the supporting cast Ned Yost would be able to keep, considering the limited budget the Brewers are on.
As for us, the pitching rotation is mostly set: Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, and Marquis. The fifth spot is still up for grabs, but what team has five starting pitchers, let alone four, set in stone for next year already? Besides, the Cubs have plenty of options from within the organization: Dempster, Marshall, Hart, and countless others. The bullpen might need a little bit of work, but the worst case scenario would be moving Marmol into the closer's role.
The catcher is Geovany Soto and hopefully Derrek Lee will not be useless in future years at first base. Aramis Ramirez should be able to be a bit more productive at the third base position and Mark DeRosa seems to have his future at second base solidified.
We never saw the real Alfonso Soriano as he was marred with injuries. His plate production was even down a bit, but this was just the second time in his career that he's stolen fewer than 30 bases, let alone fewer than 20. I expect his offense to improve marginally and his running game to improve greatly next year. Jacque Jones (yes, I'm counting on him again) should be the second member of starting outfield and the options for a third within the organization are plenty: Pie, Patterson, Murton, and maybe even Cliff Floyd.
It seems like maybe an outfielder with a patient bat, another utility infielder, and a decent pitcher or two may be all we need to add this winter.
The end of this season is a lot different from the end of the 2003 season. The 2003 run was a magical run that focused on improbable stories and things just going the right way. For that reason, the future after 2003 was uncertain: how will things hold up?
That's not the case here. The 2007 run was not a run at all; it was a team that was built to win that did win. Yes, we had surprises like Carlos Marmol, Ryan Theriot, and Mike Fontenot to push us over the hump, but Jim Hendry now knows that he doesn't need to do much to keep the 2008 team from needing similar surprises to be contenders.
It's a mantra that Cubs fans are all too familiar with, but waiting for next year is a much different feeling this time around: we know we'll get our fair share of licks in.
Hopefully, the 100th time is the charm.