Cubs

Extra wild card plays right into Epsteins hands

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Extra wild card plays right into Epsteins hands

MESA, Ariz. Theo Epstein envisions Wrigley Field in October, sellouts night after night, year after year, until theres a parade down Michigan Avenue.

That was part of the lure in leaving the Boston Red Sox for a presidents job with the Cubs. There are game-changers on the horizon at Clark and Addison, potential stadium renovations and monster television deals that should pump up revenue and fuel an annual contender.

But the landscape changed immediately on Friday with the announcement that Major League Baseball and the players union had agreed to add an extra wild card in each league for 2012 and beyond.

The goal always has to be to win the division, Epstein said. When you set out, thats the only sure-fire way to get in and now it comes with a significant added advantage of getting to avoid single-game elimination.

We still set out with the same goal of winning the division, but clearly it makes the bar of qualifying for postseason play lower and more attainable for teams that are kind of in that building phase. Its a good thing.

Epstein is trying to create another sustainable model. The Red Sox won 95 games or more six times during his nine seasons as general manager. When they reversed the curse in 2004, winning their first World Series in 86 years, they did it as a wild card. Its all about getting in the tournament.

We got more chances now, outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. We have a lot of talent here, so I think if everybody stays healthy and we play the game the right way, well be fine.

The players arent supposed to wear their (Bleep) the Goat T-shirts anymore. Instead, theres more of a quiet optimism around camp, because no one on the outside thinks theyll contend. They know they wont be playing with bulls-eyes on their backs.

I think everybody in here believes that we can win the World Series, pitcher Randy Wells said. If you didnt, then you shouldnt be here. If you do have a season where you can get hot at the right time, and jump in that extra wild card, itll help anybody.

The fans and the media dont think this is the year the Cubs will win their first World Series since 1908. This season will be about identifying core players for a championship contender.

Epstein didnt like how Billy Beane revealed all those industry secrets in Moneyball. But Epstein generally agrees with the Oakland As executive in that the playoffs can be a crapshoot.

But there are things that you can do to increase your chances in that tournament, Epstein said. Like being healthy, being rested, being prepared, advance scouting your tails off to make sure youre better prepared than the opponent.

(Its) having a really strong top of your rotation, a really strong closer, a really strong defense, certain things that sort of show up even more in the postseason than they do over the course of 162 games.

The postseason is less of a meritocracy than the regular season. (But) there are still things that you can do to hedge your bets.

Thats an insight into how Epstein plans to build this organization. The Moneyball references misrepresent Epstein because hes so heavily invested in scouting and believes in character and chemistry, intangibles that are supposed to help form The Cubs Way.

The self-proclaimed band of idiots in 2004 had guts, grinders and huge personalities: Curt Schilling; Pedro Martinez; Johnny Damon; David Ortiz; Jason Varitek; Kevin Millar; Bill Mueller; Keith Foulke; even Manny Ramirez before the fall.

Big games and big spots always boil down to players stepping up (and) overcoming adversity and performing, Epstein said. A lot of factors go into that. Theres always some randomness in the results. But (it helps) when you have guys who are really motivated and play as a team.

This is my personal experience. Ive seen guys who have come through in big spots when its more for the team and for themselves. (If) you have a bunch of guys who go out there playing as individuals, I dont know how many of those teams end up having a lot of success.

Then again, Epstein thought of the in-fighting on teams in the 1970s and 1980s that still won titles, like the As and New York Yankees: So I dont think you can draw any bright lines.

All that history attracted Epstein to the North Side, but his views on baseball can also be cold and calculating. The odds just got a little better at the casino. An extra wild card will play right into his hands.

As much as Im a traditionalist (and) a purist, its hard to argue with this, Epstein said. It seems to be the right move at the right time for the game.

'Cubs by the letter'

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USA TODAY

'Cubs by the letter'

Chris Kamka goes through his Cubs version of the alphabet in a poem inspired by Ogden Nash's "A Lineup for Yesterday" from 1949.

A: Arrieta

Respected and feared

He tossed two no-hitters

And grew a large beard

 

B is for Billy

A sweet-swingin' lefty

Was rather soft spoken

His hittin' was hefty

 

C is for Catcher

Mike Barrett’s right fist

Contreras, Girardi

And others I missed

 

D is for Dawson

His contract was blank

He won MVP

Then went to the bank

 

E is for Ernie

He bled Cubbie Blue

a beautiful day

So why not play two

 

F is for Fergie

He could do it all

Played hockey, played hoops

Pitched into the Hall

 

G was for Goat

But not anymore

That nonsense of "curses"

We choose to ignore

 

H is for Harry

His trademark black frames

He’d yell “Holy Cow”

And mispronounce names

 

I is for Ivy

Along Wrigley's Walls

Responsible for

Many vanishing balls

 

J is for Javy

He goes by El Mago

The flashiest glove

In all of Chicago

 

K is for Strikeout

And also for Kerry

His 20-K game

Was quite legendary

 

L is for Lester

He just needs one run

He'll make 30 starts

And then start Game 1

 

M is for Maddon

Had plenty of luck

Used hundreds of lineups

And tried not to suck

 

N is November

Of 2016

One hundred eight years

They wiped the slate clean

 

O is for Orie

And countless others

Who'd be superstars

If we had our druthers

 

P is for Pappas

Was one pitch away

The ump called ball four

Which ruined Milt's day

 

Q for Quintana

Colombian pride

Has hurled for both

The South and North side

 

R is for Ryno

Out at second base

He turned double plays

With Dunston & Grace

 

S is for Sammy

Into the abyss

Goes dozens of baseballs

Heart tap and a kiss

 

T is for Tony

You know who it is

Regarding first base

No one beats The Rizz

 

U for Uehara

With Cubs for one year

Not many to choose from

To fill the spot here

 

V is for Vegas

A wonderful place

Hometown of the player

Who covers third base

 

W for Wrigley

And Waveland too

Also the white flag

With a W in blue

 

X is for X

Roman Numeral Ten

Was worn by Ron Santo

Won’t be worn again

 

Y is for Yu

He had a tough year

In 2019

Yu'll be glad he's here

 

Z is for Zobrist

A solid teammate

You'll hear his wife sing

As he walks to the plate

 

Well, it sure looks like the Bryce Harper-to-the-Cubs ship has sailed once and for all

Well, it sure looks like the Bryce Harper-to-the-Cubs ship has sailed once and for all

It sure seems like we can pronounce the Cubs' courtship of Bryce Harper DOA. 

Though there was never much doubt left after manager Joe Maddon bluntly said it wasn't going to happen, news of the Cubs' disinterest in Harper continues to trickle in: 

Take every single tweet ever with a grain of salt -- because that's all any of them are worth -- but this seems mighty cut and dry. Granted, this is the same Jim Bowden that spent a not insignificant amount of time trying to convince White Sox fans that their team was the FRONTRUNNER for Bryce Harper, but Bowden is admittedly more well-connected than other baseball tweeters. 

Maybe it's just posturing, and if the reports of Manny Machado's $175 million contract are to be believed, it's almost definitely posturing. The more important thing to take away from this, however, is that Hot Stove season is insufferable and would everyone please just sign players so we don't have to Sherlock Homes 16 tweets a day.