Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
Dusty Baker is a thoughtful, honest man, and at this time last year he had to be wondering about his job security and legacy. Baker had celebrated his 60th birthday that summer and would be entering the final season of a three-year contract.
During that time, the Cincinnati Reds had shown minimal improvement, going from 74 to 78 victories and rising from fifth to fourth in the National League Central. By Opening Day 2010, their 71.7 million payroll was less than half what the Cubs were prepared to spend.
But to generate optimism the Reds could point to the 20-11 run that ended last season. One Baseball Prospectus preseason projection had them continuing that gradual growth and finishing at 82-80.
On Wednesday Baker will be chewing a toothpick at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where the Phillies have sold out 123 straight games and are looking to hang their third consecutive pennant, and second World Series banner in three years.
For the 91-win Reds, Game 1 of this best-of-five series will mark their first playoff appearance since 1995, and it helped the ex-Cubs manager earn a two-year extension.
The Cubs closed out 2010 with a similar 24-13 push under Mike Quade, and you will be hearing about that statistic nonstop if he is named manager for next season.
Its not how you start, Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said. When you finish like this it does carry over into next year (because) it makes it that much more exciting to get to spring training. Its unfortunate were going home right now, but well enjoy some time off and some relaxation and then get ready to get back at it.
It would have been the same story with the Padres if the Cubs hadnt won three-of-four games last week in San Diego. In 2009 the Padres went on a 37-25 run to finish at 75-87 and the momentum continued into a 90-win season, in a year and a league where 91 and 92 victories won the wild card and the division.
Anybody that discounts (this) and says it doesnt matter in September they couldnt be more wrong, general manager Jim Hendry said. I think youd ask the San Diego Padres if September mattered from a Cubs point of view.
The Pittsburgh Pirates also had a bump near the end of this season, going 13-17 from Sept. 1 on and 44-88 before that point. Does anyone honestly think they will experience the carryover effect?
Its difficult to assess all these performances, when the rosters are bloated with September call-ups and managers are making decisions while taking the long view and not trying to squeeze the most out of every matchup.
But in a game that is increasingly ruled by numbers, theres also something to be said for the feel of a clubhouse, the energy in the room. Near the end, all that changed around the Cubs. You could hear Bob Marley bouncing from the speakers after most wins.
(We) relaxed, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves at the beginning of the season, pressed when we werent winning. (Its) one of those things where we turned it on at the wrong time. Were just showing that we are a good team. Its just a little too late.
Theres also a difference between getting outs when the bleachers are empty and when 41,000-plus are packed into Wrigley Field. A young, inexperienced bullpen that began the season as a weakness ended it with 28 consecutive scoreless innings and a 1.19 ERA in its last 25 games.
When he managed at Triple-A Iowa, Quade was a September call-up to the Cubs, and Baker kept him around for the postseason. Quade will always be grateful for that opportunity. Again it could take years to really see what the exposure meant.
To say we want to build on this? Absolutely, but talk doesnt get it done, Quade said. Saying it and doing it are two different things. (But) much the way I said I think I found out a lot about myself these last six weeks, (those kids) better have found out a lot about themselves.
It doesnt mean they have it figured out. The minute you think you (do), youre in trouble. But theyve come a long way and I think theyre ready to take the next step to be better.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.