The Cubs will begin the 16th postseason in club history Wednesday at Wrigley Field against the Los Angeles Dodgers. First pitch is set for 5:35 p.m. CDT. All television coverage of the series will be provided by cable network TBS.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday at Wrigley Field on the eve of the series, Piniella was asked by one scribe what it meant to be the "favorite" in the NL.
"Means that we're the favorite," barked Piniella.
In that brief moment, he might have sounded like former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka with one of his memorable, oft-legendary quips to reporters. Then the Cubs' manager just smiled and said: "What else does it mean? It means nothing."
"We've got to go out and play on the field," Piniella said. "Any team that gets into the postseason has earned it, and any team that gets in the postseason is very, very capable of winning. If we go out and play really well, we've got as good a chance as anybody else."
The Cubs certainly played well against the Dodgers in the regular season. Chicago went 5-2 against Los Angeles, sweeping a three-game series at Wrigley Field in late May before splitting a four-game series at Dodger Stadium in early June.
But the Los Angeles lineup received a bit of Botox not long after those games. They added outfielder Manny Ramirez, the team's consensus best player, at the trade deadline and also swung deals for third baseman Casey Blake and former Cubs starting pitcher Greg Maddux.
Aided by Ramirez's .396 batting average and 17 home runs in 53 games, the Dodgers went from .500 on August 1 to 30-24 the rest of the season, including 17-8 in September, the best mark of any National League club. They overtook Arizona for the NL West crown.
Piniella was asked about the difference(s) between the Dodger club he saw in May and June and the one the Cubs will face now. He conceded the Dodgers are a lot different than when the Cubs last played them.
"You add a Manny Ramirez to the middle of that lineup, you add (Casey) Blake with experience at the corner and you add a Greg Maddux to an already pretty darn good pitching staff and you're going to have a much different look and a much more potent look," said Piniella. "At the same time, (shortstop Rafael) Furcal seems like he's gotten back into the fray here at the right time.
"Look, we respect the Dodgers and we know that we've got to go out and play well to beat them, and that's exactly what we're going to try to do."
The first question Piniella fielded Tuesday was one asking whether he'd finalized a lineup for Game 1. He said the plan was to wait until after Tuesday's scheduled workout to get an update on a couple of banged up players (meaning Mark DeRosa and catcher Geovany Soto) before announcing a lineup.
Piniella said that Soto, who left last Friday's game in Milwaukee with a hand-related injury, was going to be fine and that he (Piniella) wasn't concerned about any health issues at all with regards to the Cubs' catcher.
He said he was a little concerned about DeRosa, though. The Cubs' do-it-all infielder-outfielder strained his left calf last Wednesday in a game against the New York Mets.
"With DeRosa, I'm a little concerned about running," said Piniella. "I want to see how that plays itself out (Tuesday). That will help us make out a decision on our roster spot and at the same time what our lineup will be tomorrow."
No official lineup or complete playoff roster was available at press time.
One player who doesn't need to be announced is Game 1 starter Ryan Dempster. The right-hander won 17 games and had a 2.96 ERA in 33 starts for the Cubs this season – his first since making the transition from relieving. Since the All-Star break, Dempster has lost only twice and has an ERA of 2.52.
Piniella said Dempster has "superceded expectations" this year.
"Seventeen wins, been very consistent all year, I think he and (Ted) Lilly have probably pitched the most innings on our staff," said Piniella. "Obviously we're quite pleased."
The Cubs will have the luxury of home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs – a fact that is not being overlooked by Piniella, but the Cubs' skipper noted that the playoffs were different than the regular season and that any team still playing baseball in October is capable of winning on the road.
"It comes down to whoever pitches best, and whoever hits the timeliest, and whoever plays the best defense," said Piniella.
Piniella closed by noting that the Cubs are coming off a difficult finish to the regular season. The Cubs faced both the Brewers and Mets who were each battling for the Wildcard spot, and Piniella said that he did what was best for his club while trying to be fair to Milwaukee and New York.
"We had a difficult week to finish," Piniella said. "It was a unique situation in that we clinched here at home on a Saturday and still had to play two teams that were competing for (the) postseason. On one hand, you want to rest your team and on the other hand, you want to keep a competitive balance. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do. I hope I don't have to go through that ever again."