The Chicago Cubs have heard all about the franchise’s 100-year World Series championship drought. They are familiar with the curses and bad luck supposedly following the team, and they know how much a title would mean to Chicago’s North Side.
While they are aware of that frustrating history, they know it’s just that - history.
The 2008 Cubs are determined to put the past behind them and take the first step toward ending their century-long championship drought when they host Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday in Game 1 of their best-of-five NL division series.
Chicago (97-64) became the first team to win back-to-back World Series titles with championships in 1907 and ’08, but the past century has had its share of disappointments as the Cubs have become known as the “lovable losers” due to their futility.
“It’s not fair to put all the expectations of all the past failures here and all the past successes here on the 2008 team,” manager Lou Piniella said. “You let this team stand on its own merit and you let them do what they can do as well as they can do it and let them go as far as they can.”
In 1984 - their first postseason appearance since winning the NL pennant in 1945 - the Cubs won the first two games of the NL championship series over San Diego, only to lose the series in five. In 2003, Chicago was five outs away from advancing to the World Series, but collapsed after the infamous foul-ball episode involving fan Steve Bartman and Florida went on to win the NLCS in seven.
Last season, the Cubs won the division, but were swept by Arizona in the first round, as their offense scored only six runs.
“You can’t do anything about the teams before us,” Chicago second baseman Ryan Theriot told the team’s official Web site. “All we can control is this team and we’re going to play hard and hopefully we can do it.”
The Cubs finished with the best record in the NL this season to comfortably win the NL Central by 7 1/2 games over Milwaukee. They led the league in runs (855) and had five players with at least 20 homers, but will face a Los Angeles team that allowed the fewest runs in the league (648).
While Chicago cruised to its second straight division title, the Dodgers (84-78) trailed Arizona by 4 1/2 games on Aug. 29 before winning 18 of their next 23 to win the division by two games.
First-year Dodgers manager Joe Torre helped direct the team to its second NL West title in four years, but Los Angeles would likely be out of the playoffs if it wasn’t for Ramirez.
The Dodgers acquired Ramirez from Boston in a three-team trade on July 31 and he did not disappoint, batting .396 with 17 home runs, 14 doubles and 53 RBIs in 53 games for Los Angeles. The team went 30-24 after getting the 12-time All-Star.
“He has been great in just about every way,” Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti said. “I can’t think of anything I have been disappointed in.”
Ramirez was the MVP of the 2004 World Series, and has been at his best in the postseason. He hit .348 (16-for-46) with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 14 playoff games for the championship Red Sox last season, and his 24 career postseason homers are the most in baseball history.
The Dodgers, who are 1-12 in four playoff series since winning the 1988 World Series, lost five of seven to the Cubs this season, but all of those games were played before Ramirez was traded to Los Angeles.
“Since we played them last, they’ve added Manny and he’s quite a player,” Chicago leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano said. “They are a much better team with him so we are going to have be ready to play because it is going to be a tough series.”
Soriano and Cubs cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez are hoping to atone for a dismal performance in last season’s playoffs, as they combined to go 2-for-26.
Aramis Ramirez has been one of the best clutch hitters in baseball this season, though, leading the majors in batting (.360) and RBIs (47) in the seventh inning or later.
The All-Star third baseman was 5-for-23 (.217) with a homer and four RBIs against the Dodgers this season, and is only 2-for-13 (.154) lifetime versus Game 1 scheduled starter Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24 ERA).
Lowe finished ninth in the league in ERA, and wrapped up the regular season in impressive fashion, going 5-1 with a 0.94 ERA over his final nine starts.
In his only start of the season at Wrigley on May 28, Lowe gave up four hits and struck out five in seven shutout innings of a 2-1, 10-inning loss. Against the Cubs at Dodger Stadium on June 7, Lowe yielded three runs and six hits in seven innings of a 7-3 win.
Lowe is 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA in seven career postseason starts, including seven scoreless innings in Boston’s World Series clincher over St. Louis in 2004.
The Cubs counter with Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.96), who was one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season.
After being Chicago’s closer for the past three seasons, Dempster was moved to the starting rotation, and flourished.
The right-hander was named to the NL All-Star team, and finished the regular season tied for third in the league in wins, third in opponent batting average (.227), fourth in ERA and seventh in strikeouts (187).
Dempster dominated at Wrigley, going 14-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 20 home starts, prompting Piniella to name him the Game 1 starter.
He went 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in two starts versus the Dodgers this season.