The big question for all Cub fans is how can the team be more productive in the playoffs? We've seen with horror how a fine 2008 regular season came crashing down in the playoffs, but can we excuse this outcome with the alibi that a short best of five playoff series is really a crap shoot?
While I believe that the short series format is absurd when MLB has extra days off built into the playoffs, but that's another issue for another time. The truth of the matter is that there is some validity to the belief that a team enjoying success throughout the regular season can still be only slightly better than 50/50 come playoff time.
If we breakdown the major aspects of any successful team we know it all starts with pitching, but the defense and offense can't be afterthoughts. Now there is no doubt that the Cubs where leaders or in the top echelon of MLB in all three of these categories during the 2008 season. So does the crap shoot theory in the playoffs explain the Cubs exit? Not hardly and here is why.
Yes it's is true that anything can happen in a short series and with that caveat, the better team isn't guaranteed to come out victorious. But let me ask you this. Did it look like the Cubs were even in the same league as the Dodgers? We know that the numbers said that the series should have at least been competitive, if not favor the Cubs outright. So WTF happened? Let's look at the following...
A definite strength of the Cubs, but who could have expected that Dempster would shit in his pants on the big stage? The Cubs down 0-1 at home placed even more pressure than the short series already has on any team and certainly contributed to the tight play of it's players in game two.
We've all heard that you build your teams defense up the middle first, and while the Cubs were above average statistically, anyone with eyes to see understand the range and ability of our middle infielders was sub par.
Once again, the Cubs led most offensive categories, even the one least likely OBP. OBP had been a major Achilles heel for the usually free swinging Cubs, but during the regular season the Cubs made great strides in addressing this issue. So what happened in the playoffs?
When you look a hitters numbers over the course of a season you have to understand that much of their success comes from facing the weak sisters of baseball and that even when you play a potential playoff contender, quite frequently your team can often miss that teams number one starter.
When the playoffs role around, there are no weak sisters to play and your team will most certainly face the other staffs ace at least once if not twice. This can explain how a teams regular seasons offensive numbers can quite often be misleading. Superior pitching does in fact negate many teams hitters and that's why a balanced lineup can play such a key role in victory.
There just isn't much room for error with most playoff teams having superior rotations. So the teams that demonstrate the most patience at the plate and pay error free defense usually succeed. Looking back at a Cubs lineup that featured their least disciplined batter getting more AB's than most anyone else, you can see how that shoots to shit the idea of plate discipline and making the opponent's pitcher pile up his pitch count.
Soriano is like many successful hitters that fail miserably in the playoffs. He accumulates most of his good numbers during the regular season by beating up the back end of most opponent's rotations. When you consider the short supply of quality starting pitchers in the league, it's not hard to imagine how many above average hitters put up some pretty good numbers over the course of the season.
Did Soriano alone scuttle the Cubs offense this post season? Of course not. In any playoffs series, especially a short one when there is such a premium on every win and especially the first game, Piniella's decision to replace the highest BA and OBP hitter on the team Theriot, in the two hole with the worst hitter on the team Fukudome, really set the stage for the Cubs offense to fail. Not much chance for small ball with those two at the top of the order. This decision I suspect didn't go unnoticed by the rest of the lineup and once they fell behind in game one, it's understandable although not acceptable, that the team looked lost offensively.
The batting order on most teams places a premium on having their best OBP hitters at the top of their order, and with good reason. The Cubs lack of a true lead off man may not make the difference during the course of a long season, but in the playoffs when every base runner is at a premium, it is an absolute must that the top of the order have the hitters than can get on base by every means possible and work the count.
When considering the direction that Hendry has followed this off season so far, we only hope he understands the need to address the teams need for a quality, proven lead off hitter. More balance is also needed in a lineup that can fall victim to a predominant right handed pitching rotation. Hendry just can't secure any LHB to hit in the middle of the order, he has to acquire a quality run producer.
These two offensive weaknesses mightily contributed to the short circuit of the Cubs offense in the postseason. We can only hope Hendry has enough payroll left to address the Cubs biggest reason for their recent playoff failure. If not, committing the dollars to resign Dempster will have been for naught.
The way the rotation is set, there has been no significant upgrade and the bullpen may even be weaker. If the quality additions mentioned are not made to the offense, a likely repeat of last years playoffs is more likely than not.