Sunday, September 21, 2008

What will the Cubs do?

That's the question for Phillies fans going into the final week of the
baseball season.

Having already clinched the NL Central title, will Lou Piniella rest
his regulars, treating the remaining games as glorified exhibition
games; or will he instead keep pressing to remain hot?

Lou's decision takes on heightened significance because the Cubs'
final seven games are against the top two teams (as I write
this) in the Wildcard race. Four against the Mets followed by three
against Milwaukee.

I'm expecting Lou to keep the pedal to the metal until the last game
of the regular season, except for his starting pitching staff, which
he might juggle to set up for the first round of the playoffs. I have
two primary reasons for expecting this.

First, regardless of what Lou does, one of these two teams (though I
hope not both) is going to make the playoffs. You don't want to give
up anything to a potential playoff opponent. Anything that gives your
competition a little confidence (such as having won a few against you down the
stretch) in the playoffs is a bad thing. Lou's been around
long enough to know that; he's not likely to make that mistake. This
is even more important against the Mets because if the Mets are the
Wildcard team, they will start the post-season against the Cubs in

Second, Lou's history includes early exits from the playoffs when he
managed the Mariners. Those teams included the record-setting 2001
club that had the most wins (116) in AL history. That team cruised
into the playoffs, having clinched early, and was promptly dispatched.
Especially this year, with the opportunity to again make history this
time for the Cubs by ending a 100-year World Series drought, Lou is
not going to take it easy until he's hoisting the trophy.

Don't get me wrong. Will Lou this week use Kerry Wood for a 2-inning
save or on three consecutive nights? No, absolutely not. And as I
mentioned, I do expect him to juggle his rotation, but if I'm Jerry
Manuel managing the Mets or Dale Sveum with the Brewers, I have to
view the Cubs as the best team in the league looking to get hot going
into the playoffs, not as a relaxed team looking to ease into the

Doing otherwise would be perilous to your post-season health. And in
the case of both of these interim managers, that's likely to determine
whether they they return at the helm next season.

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