Perception Differs From Reality

This isn't quite how you envisioned it when you drew it up, is it, Lou? Turns out, managing for Game 4 of a Best-of-Five postseason series when you haven't even so much as completed Game 1 doesn't really do a whole lot of good in the grand scheme of things.

Carlos Zambrano will get his three days' rest and then some between now and his next start – in 2008.

The Arizona Diamondbacks spoiled the Cubs' 2007 postseason party once and for all on Saturday, taking advantage of several missed opportunities by their opponents to win, 5-1, and completing a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field to advance to the National League Championship Series.

It is too little and too late to second-guess Cubs manager Lou Piniella now for his questionable in-game decision(s) in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday night in Arizona.

It also would not be fair to place the blame for the Cubs losing that game and any others in the postseason strictly on Piniella's decisions.

The Cubs lost this series largely because they continuously failed to manufacture runs despite being given countless chances to do so, and the story in Game 3 Saturday wasn't much different than the rest of this short-lived series.

The Cubs stranded nine runners on base for the third straight game to finish the series a paltry 2-for-23 at the plate with runners in scoring position.

Diamondbacks starter Livan Hernandez, the winner pitcher in Game 3, was on the ropes seemingly every single inning Saturday. Yet the Cubs' offense failed to capitalize each time it appeared they might finally break out of their October funk.

Four different Cubs hitters hit into four different double plays – a scenario that in retrospect of this series was about as predictable as night following day.

The biggest blow came in the fifth inning when second baseman Mark DeRosa, with the bases loaded and one out and Hernandez struggling to throw strikes following three walks in the inning, swung at a 3-1 pitch clearly out of the strike zone that resulted in a weak grounder to shortstop Stephen Drew for a 6-4-3 twin-killing.

The Cubs' "big three" – Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee – would finish the series a combined 6-for-38 with Lee getting four of those hits, all singles.

By contrast, former Cubs infielder Augie Ojeda finished the series 4-for-9.

Ramirez' swings were almost comical, as everyone from the Diamondbacks' dugout to the TBS broadcast booth high atop the first base side at Wrigley Field felt a stiff breeze from the Cubs' third baseman's empty cuts.

Ramirez finished 0-for-12 with five strikeouts in the series, and left 12 on base.

"He struggled with the series, but we didn't do much offensively," Piniella said after Saturday's game. "What did we score, six runs in three games?

"Hard to win that way."

For his part, Soriano was just 2-for-14 in the series. His only hard hit ball in the entire postseason was one that resulted in a long single due to a clear lack of hustle.

The Cubs as a whole hit just .194; the "big three" just .158.

The Cubs' starting pitching also struggled mightily, as left-hander Rich Hill struggled with both his fastball and breaking ball command in Game 3.

Hill, just like Game 2 starter Ted Lilly, failed to make it past the fourth inning and actually gave Arizona a 1-0 lead on a leadoff home run by Diamondbacks rookie center fielder Chris Young at 5:06 p.m. in Chicago – a full minute before the first pitch was even scheduled to be thrown. Making his first career postseason start, Hill allowed three runs and six hits in three innings. He walked two.

Cubs relievers Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood each yielded solo home runs that gave Arizona two insurance runs it would not even need.

Three hours and 22 minutes after Hill's very first pitch of the game wound up in the left field bleachers, the team that became the first National League club to win their division became the first one eliminated from the playoffs.

After the game, Piniella said that his team gave effort. That may have been his perception, but to a lot of people it sure seemed different from reality.

"When you don't score runs and you leave a lot of people on, it looks lackluster. But it wasn't," Piniella insisted. "These guys (the Cubs) gave effort. They really did."

Piniella said that he was proud of his team for what they accomplished this season (after posting the worst record in the National League a year ago, the Cubs went from worst to first in the National League Central Division in just one season).

What Piniella did not say was that he was proud of the way they played in this series.

"We're disappointed but at the same time, I'm really proud of our players," said Piniella. "We got off to a slow start this year, (but) put together a good run (that) culminated in getting into the postseason."

"We're going to get better," Piniella said. "This is just a start. It is disappointing, but no matter how far you go up the ladder in baseball (and) you don't win a World Series, you are going to find disappointment somewhere along the way."

Piniella said: "I'm proud of our guys. I really am. I told them that."

Be that as it may, this series will nevertheless go down in the history books not as the most shocking postseason event in Cubs playoff lure, but certainly as one of the more disappointing ones – in large part because of how truly ripe the National League has been for the taking all year long.

This is not to say that the Arizona Diamondbacks do not deserve to be playing for a trip to the World Series; no more than it would be to say that the Cubs did not deserve to be in the playoffs because they played in a weaker division.

"They have a good ball club with good pitching, and I wish them well in their endeavors in this next round," Piniella said of the Diamondbacks. "They really played well and they should feel good about what they did."

Piniella's perception would seem to be that the Cubs played and lost to a good team; a team that won more games than any National League club in the regular season.

While that much is certainly true (Piniella's team did lose to a good team), the harsh reality is that the Cubs – $300 million and all – simply got it handed to them by a young upstart team in every single facet of the game.

And despite what the national media might try to have you believe, none of it it had anything to do with Billy goat curses, black cats, flying saucers, walking zombies, men in black, Aladdin's Lamp, or any other fictitious medieval fairytales.

"There's no curse here" – that's what Piniella had said after being introduced as Cubs manager in October of 2006, and he is correct.

In light of how it ended up, perception might say that the Cubs simply lost to a much better team in this series.

Those living in reality, however, know better.

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