SERIES: National League Divison Series, Game 1.
There aren’t too many people who can say they were alive the last time the Chicago Cubs won a postseason series. Then again, it has been 95 years.
Back in the playoffs for the first time in five years, the Cubs face a formidable test when they open their division series Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves, who are making their 12th straight appearance.
“It’s the Atlanta Braves, man. They’ve been there 12 years in a row. That’s a lot,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
Chicago, which won its first division title since 1989 while Atlanta wrapped up its 12th straight, hasn’t won a postseason road game since the 1945 World Series. The Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908.
“Obviously when you play here, you hear about the gloom and doom of what always happens here or what historically has happened,” Cubs first baseman Eric Karros said.
“I’ll tell you what. From day one, Dusty has preached look ahead and don’t look back.”
Unlike his team, Baker has had recent postseason success. He led the San Francisco Giants to the World Series last year, and turned the Cubs from a team that won 67 games last year into a Central Division champion this season.
“You go out and have a guy like Dusty, anything can happen. Once it started, we kept going,” Kenny Lofton said.
For the Braves, making the playoffs has been as automatic as Greg Maddux winning 15 games over the last decade. However, their regular-season success has meant little in recent years.
Atlanta has been eliminated in the first round two of the last three years, including losing to Baker’s Giants in five games last season. For all their division crowns, the Braves have just one World Series title to show for it since 1991.
Still, that postseason experience is something few Cubs have.
“I’ve got to believe it give us a little edge just because everyone here is used to the whole environment of the playoffs,” said 21-game winner Russ Ortiz, who will start the opener for the Braves.
Atlanta cruised to the division title this season and wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs by finishing a half-game ahead of San Francisco. The Giants decided not to travel to New York on Monday for a makeup game against the Mets, conceding the No. 1 seed to the Braves.
Atlanta has won 49 of the 84 meetings with the Cubs in the last 10 years. The Braves also swept the Cubs in three games in the 1998 division series in Chicago’s last postseason appearance.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Cubs - NL Central champions. Braves - NL East champions.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cubs - CF Lofton (.296, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs, 30 steals for Pittsburgh and Chicago), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38), RF Sammy Sosa (.279, 40, 103, 143 Ks), LF Moises Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.272, 27, 106 for Pittsburgh and Chicago), 1B Randall Simon (.275, 16, 72 for Pittsburgh and Chicago), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59, 123 Ks), C Damian Miller (.233, 9, 36). Braves - SS Rafael Furcal (.292, 15, 61, 130 runs, 25 steals, 10 triples), 2B Marcus Giles (.316, 21, 69, 49 doubles), RF Gary Sheffield (.330, 39, 132), LF Chipper Jones (.305, 27, 106), CF Andruw Jones (.277, 36, 116, 125 Ks), C Javy Lopez (.328, 43, 109), 1B Robert Fick (.269, 11, 80), 3B Vinny Castilla (.277, 22, 76).
CUBS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Kerry Wood (14-11, 3.20 ERA). Wood will be making his second postseason apperance, as he started Game 3 of the 1998 division series against Atlanta. The right-hander gave up a run and three hits in five innings as the Braves won 6-2 to complete their sweep. Wood has been stellar over the last month, going 3-1 with a 0.84 ERA. The 26-year-old Wood, who led the majors with 266 strikeouts, is 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five career starts against Atlanta. He did not face them this season.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Ortiz (21-7, 3.81). Ortiz had a stellar first season in Atlanta, winning eight straight starts from June 18-July 29. The right-hander has won three of his last four starts and hasn’t allowed a run over the last 14 innings. The 29-year-old Ortiz is 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA in seven career starts against Chicago.
SEASON SERIES: Braves, 4-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - The Cubs drew a Chicago city record of 2,962,630 for 80 home games this season. … The NL Central champions are in the postseason for just the fourth time since the 1945 World Series, and they’ve won a grand total of three playoff games in their previous three appearances. … Grudzielanek and Karros are a combined 21-for-55 (.381) with a homer and 11 RBIs against Ortiz. Braves - Atlanta set a team record with 235 homers, including six different players with 20 or more and four players with 100 RBIs. … Lopez, Sheffield, Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones are a combined 7-for-41 (.170) with a homer and three RBIs against Wood. … 3B Castilla was 11-of-15 with two homers and 10 RBIs this season against Chicago.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cubs - 44-37 on the road. Braves - 55-26 at home.