This year’s Cubs team unlike those in the past

By Dave Fultz

As I sat in my apartment on Saturday watching the Cubs celebrate a win that clinched the division crown for the Northsiders, I noticed a common message as Lou Piniella and his players did their postgame interviews: This team isn’t like the others.

This team isn’t the same as Leon Durham and the 1984 team, Will Clark pounding the ’89 squad, the 163-game wonders of 1998, the collapse in ’03, or even last year’s team that made an early exit from the playoffs.

There are no more thoughts of black cats or billy goats, Steve Bartman or Bill Sianis. The 2008 team shouldn’t be judged against the teams that have failed in the past or fall victim to the fatalist attitude of Chicago fans and media.

This sentiment was echoed in every champagne-drenched postgame interview, was personified by the on-field celebration that lasted well after the final out of the afternoon’s game, and I think Cubs fans are happy to hear that this team won’t be satisfied with just another division champs hat and T-shirt.

Even rookie catcher Geovany Soto understood that this isn’t a successful season yet. When he spoke, he made it clear that this team is just getting started.

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Looking forward, it should be easy for fans to get excited about that prospect.

The Cubs took a victory against St. Louis on Sunday in a game that featured Ryan Dempster and what was basically the Triple-A Iowa lineup to put them one win away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

Piniella said that he’d have his regulars back in the lineup this week as the Cubs travel to New York and Milwaukee because those teams are still in the running for the NL Wild Card. The manager said on Saturday that the Cubs “owed it” to the teams still in the hunt to field a competitive team for the last week of the season.

To be honest, now that the Cubs have clinched the division ahead of the Brewers, they may want to start cheering for their Central rivals. It would benefit the Cubs greatly if Milwaukee can make a run in this last week and take the Wild Card over the Mets or Phillies.

If the Brewers can sneak their way into the playoffs, Chicago cannot play them in the first round of the playoffs because they are in the same division. That means a big difference in first-round opponents for the Cubs because they would play the winners of the NL West – most likely the Dodgers – and have a much better matchup for the best-of-five short series in the opening round.

Personally, I don’t think any team from the National League matches up well against Chicago because the Cubs have just been so darn good in every aspect of the game this season.

That said, the Cubs would probably like to avoid facing the lefty aces of the NL East teams – Johan Santana and Cole Hamels – twice in a short series.

This, paired with the fact that the Brewers just aren’t as scary without Ben Sheets at full strength, should be enough cause for Cubs fans to start cheering for their Milwaukee neighbors over the next week.

In terms of setting a playoff roster, Piniella doesn’t really have a whole lot of decisions to make as the majority of the everyday lineup and rotation has settled in nicely over the course of the season. Frankly, it’s a nice thing to only need to worry about deciding the last spot or two on the bench and in the bullpen at this point in the season.

The four-man playoff rotation is set with Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Dempster and Ted Lilly all healthy and the regular lineup accounted for. Soto, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Theriot, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Jim Edmonds have all pretty much solidified themselves at their positions.

After those 12 guys, Piniella has 13 spots left to do with as he pleases, and my guess is that he’ll want an extra bat and take five guys for his bench.

If I were Piniella, I’d take Reed Johnson, Mike Fontenot, Ronny Cedeno and Micah Hoffpauir. This leaves Felix Pie and Daryle Ward out in the cold, but I don’t feel like they bring anything to the table that Johnson or Hoffpauir can’t do better.

This leaves eight spots for relievers and the back-end of the bullpen is already set with Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, Jeff Samardzija and Chad Gaudin. I’m sure there will be two lefties, which means Sean Marshall and Neal Cotts will make the roster.

The last two spots will likely be filled by some combination of Jason Marquis, Bob Howry, Kevin Hart and Michael Wuertz. I’d take Hart and Wuertz, but Piniella might want the veteran arms.

Regardless of the final roster, the Cubs look to have the strongest team from top to bottom in the NL as we head to October. That, along with the right mindset, might just be enough to make everyone in Chicago forget the history that has haunted this team in years past.

At the very least, it should be a fun ride.

Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].