WITH THE Mets and Yankees out of the play-off picture, which team will you be rooting for this October?
It really would be a fairy-tale ending to the season if the Tampa Bay Rays, having won their first American League East Championship, went on to become World Champions.
But while I have a soft spot for the Rays, I’ll be cheering on everyone’s favorite second team: the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubbies’ 99-year title drought is the longest of any professional sports team in North America and it’s high time they ended the Curse of the Billy Goat.
Legend has it that curse originated in game four of the 1945 World Series when Wrigley Field stewards ejected Billy Sianis, who had purchased two box seats – one for himself and one for his goat. Apparently, there were complaints about the unpleasant odor emanating from the goat.
Sianis was so upset that he vowed: “The Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Chicago lost game four, the World Series, and they haven’t been back since.
Now, under the guidance of one of the game’s great characters, Lou Piniella, the National League Central champions have a real chance of going all the way.
Piniella, a World Series winner as a player with the New York Yankees in 1977 and 78, and as a manager with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, has turned the Cubs from under-achievers into a solid, all-round ball club since joining them on a three-year deal in October, 2006.
Sweet Lou set to lead Chicago to the Promised Land
They can pitch and they can hit. With Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden taking the mound against the LA Dodgers, Piniella will be favored to overcome his old sparring partner Joe Torre and make it to the NLCS, where the Cubs will face either the Phillies or the Brewers.
Philadelphia will probably emerge as their biggest threat, providing they can find a way to beat CC Sabathia, the man largely responsible for the Brewers making it to the play-offs in the first place. Sabathia will pitch in game two – once again on only three days’ rest – and will thenbe available for game five if the series goes that far.
In the American League, the clash between the Los Angeles Angels and reigning World Champs the Boston Red Sox is a real heavyweight contest for round one of the Division Series.
The Red Sox won’t go down without a fight, but the Angels have undoubtedly been the best team in baseball this season. They’re the only 100-game winners and they took the season series against Boston 8-1. In fact, the Angels have won their last eight meetings.
Josh Beckett won’t start until game three due to an oblique strain, which puts the pressure on either Jon Lester to beat John Lackey, or Daisuke Matsuzaka to overcome Ervina Santana, in Los Angeles.
The Rays won’t know until later today whether they’ll be playing either the Chicago White Sox or the Minnesota Twins.
If they manage to get to the ALCS, they certainly won’t be overawed by either the Red Sox or the Angels, having dominated both teams during the regular season.
The play-offs won’t quite be the same without the presence of a New York team. But try telling that to the fans in Boston, Chicago or LA.