Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Maddon confident as Cubs face Dodgers in NLCS

A fresh coat of green paint was applied to the railings at Wrigley Field on Thursday as the grounds crew tended to the field and ivy.

Every ballpark has its own quirks, but few change their look on a seasonal basis like Wrigley, which is beginning to display its fall colors this week.

Wrigley and the fans are ready for the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, and the consensus is the Cubs are ready too.

"I'd like to believe the experience we had last year, combined with what we're doing thing year, should help them," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

It should, especially after the thrilling ninth-inning comeback victory Tuesday night to oust the Giants.

Of course, we have thought the Cubs were ready for prime time in October before, only to discover they weren't.

This is the fifth trip to the NLCS in Cubs history and the third time since the playoffs expanded in 1994. They still are searching for their first triumph, having lost to the Padres 3-2 in 1984, to the Giants 4-1 in '89, to the Marlins 4-3 in '03 and to the Mets 4-0 last October.

"Try Not To Suck" is the current mantra, though "Close, But No Cigar," has been their unofficial slogan since '84.

Some of the most beloved stars in franchise history have gone bust in the NLCS, while Steve Garvey, Will Clark and Daniel Murphy became lifelong villains in Chicago for their roles in three of those four nightmarish endings.

The '03 team imploded on its own after taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Something bad happened in Game 6, but it's still too soon to talk about it.

Most players on this year's team were around last year when the Cubs were swept. They trailed the Mets in the first inning of every game and never recovered. Murphy cranked four home runs and hit .529 against Cubs pitching, earning MVP honors and a big contract from the Nationals.

The Cubs avoided another meeting with Murphy when the Nats lost 4-3 to the Dodgers on Thursday night. That set up a rematch with the Dodgers, who swept them in the 2008 NLDS. After the Game 3 loss in L.A., Cubs starter Ted Lilly flooded the dugout by busting the water pipes with a bat. It was that kind of a series.

Dodger Stadium is also where Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter last year, and where the Cubs have their annual onesies trip. The Cubs enjoy going there, even if they haven't always won in L.A.

"I think we like playing out here," shortstop Addison Russell said during the Cubs road trip to L.A. in August. "I think it suits our personality, how laid-back we are."

Before the other NLDS was decided, Maddon was discussing his wish not to see Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his era. Kershaw pitched in relief Thursday, retiring the final two batters, so whether he can start Game 2 is unknown.

"And you don't want to see all these other dudes," Maddon said. "So this time of year, you just see good pitching. That's what this time of the year means.

"I honestly believe our guys will be equal to the challenge. I know they're going to be ready. We're feeling pretty good about ourselves."

Jon Lester will start in Game 1, a no-brainer for president Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and Maddon. The three will huddle on Friday to decide the NLCS roster, whether to go with 11 or 12 pitchers, and which reserves to take.

The Cubs took 11 pitchers to the NLDS and chose Albert Almora Jr. over Matt Szczur as a reserve outfielder.

Those decisions worked out well, thanks in no small part to Mike Montgomery's four-plus inning outing in the 13-inning loss in Game 3 and Almora's sensational diving catch that sent the game into extra innings.

The Cubs still had enough relief help available in Game 4 when Travis Wood, Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman combined to hold Giants scoreless for 42/3 innings in the comeback victory.

"Parts of the last series pushed for both (options)," Hoyer said. "There were moments you were glad you had the extra position players, and moments you wanted the extra pitcher. There's never a perfect solution there."

So what goes on during the meetings?

"A lot of yelling," Hoyer cracked.

Is there a vote, with Epstein having veto power?

Hoyer wouldn't say.

"The first ones to get to this point were a lot of back and forth," he said. "This one obviously will be a quicker meeting. It's one decision, whether we want to do 12 or 11 (pitchers), and lot of that will depend on the opponent."

And who is catering the affair?

Hoyer wouldn't say.

"It's not that exciting," he said. "We have T-shirts for each player, and Joe puts them on."

There probably are worse ways to pick a postseason roster.

Whatever works.

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