Under Pressure

October 01, 2008 | Comments (0) | by T.R.

I've spoken in the past about how far ESPN Radio has fallen in the last few years. Yes, we can all thank our lucky stars that Dan Patrick has a syndicated show so that we're not forced to listen to Colin Cowherd in the morning. But most afternoon and evening sports radio is still broadcast locally, not syndicated, and when you're a Cubs fan living in or near Los Angeles this week, well, you're going to hear a lot of abrasive garbage on the drive home.

Personally I'd prefer not to speculate upon or predict any of these divisional series. I understand that the local radio hosts in the L.A. area are going to be homers, looking for every angle with which the Dodgers can take out the Cubs, even though the Cubs are heavily favored by national pundits. Starting pitching? I'll give the Dodgers some props in that Lowe, Billingsley and Kuroda have given the Cubs trouble in their small sample size of games this year. Manny Ramirez? No one is dumb enough to pitch to him unless his threat is totally benign.

So what real advantage do the Dodgers have for this series that begins in a few scant hours? Well, if you're John Ireland of ESPN Radio's 710 in Los Angeles, you are grasping at two straws. The first is the belief that "the Cubs are cursed, so the Dodgers will win". The second is that "the Dodgers are young and dumb, so the Dodgers will win". That's it, nothing more. The Cubs are cursed, the Dodgers are naive. Chalk it up. No need to play out the games.

Curse? The Cubs have some kind of curse? Hadn't heard. Good Lord I hardly have the heart to address this. It's overplayed and exaggerated, but sure, it serves as a cute little story. Yes, the players hear about the curse nearly every day. It's depressing to even feel the need to discuss this topic. There is no curse. Get over it. Quit talking about the curse as if you have some new and series-altering information. The team will win or lose based on the ability of the players to perform. Don't give me Bartman, because Alex Gonzalez lost that game. Don't give me the goat, because, well, that's just fucking stupid.

Now, just because there is no such thing as a curse does not mean that there isn't an inordinate amount of pressure on the Cubs. In fact, each of the eight teams in the playoffs is going to deal with some degree of pressure. It's the nature of the postseason. So, how would the final eight rank, pressure-wise? Here's my take, in order of the most pressure to the least:

Chicago Cubs: Sorry John Ireland and all the other neanderthals like Colin Cowherd that shun statistics, facts, and depth of knowledge about both teams; like we said, there is no curse. The pressure for the Cubs stems from the team winning 97 games, manhandling the rest of the National League, having arguably the best starting rotation, and being picked by many "experts" to win the World Series. Pressure lies in the organization finally making good after 100 years, for the fans, the cities, and all those that have passed on since 1908. That's an ass-load of pressure. But please, there is no curse involved. As long as they get the solid pitching that they're capable of, the defense holds up, and they score runs like they've done all year, they will advance to the World Series. The best team always has to come through in this manner. Pressure to perform, yes. Curse? Shut your mouth.

Philadelphia Phillies: Again, there is a history of ineptitude that needs to be overcome. They won it all in 1980, but man this city needs something to cheer about. Regardless of when or how they fail, at least they can go into the offseason knowing that they're not the Mets.

Los Angeles Angels: They have quite a bit of pressure due to the fact that they destroyed their division and were the most winning team in the AL. However, they won it all in 2002, so they're not exactly battling history; just a great Boston club that has handed the Angels their collective asses in previous playoff series. The Angels were 8-1 against Boston in the regular season though, for whatever that's worth.

Los Angeles Dodgers: They last won it all in 1988. Joe Torre has the pedigree, and they have some worthy pitching. The offense could be a concern outside of Manny, who every pitcher will avoid like the plague. They're going to need to rely on their youngsters like Ethier, Kemp and Martin to come through offensively. Youth cannot top experience, and being young does not automatically mean you handle pressure well. Look at Sarah Palin.

Milwaukee Brewers: I still can't believe they're in the playoffs. Gallardo is pitching their first game? I thought he was out for the season. They're jumping on Sabathia's back and hanging on for dear life. They've never won the World Series. Again, this is another town that is dying for something to talk about, especially since Favre is out of their lives. Still, there's not a ton of pressure built in when you're a Wild Card team. They're lucky to be here.

Chicago White Sox: They won it three years ago, so they're not starving for victory. They've had a decent run at the end of the season, but c'mon, they got swept last week by the Twins. They should have won the division outright instead of playing game 163. Very little pressure on the South Side, though Ozzie will be satisfied with nothing but ultimate victory. Hell, the players are probably getting more pressure in their own clubhouse than what they're getting from their fans or the city. Look for them to cave early.

Boston Red Sox: Once the model of failure (along with the Cubs), they and their town have succeeded enough in the three major sports in the last year that their shoulders are pretty light. They have the tools to go far, provided Beckett can pitch beyond Game 3 of the ALDS.

Tampa Bay Rays: I mean seriously, they're on cloud nine. And both fans are as well! You can definitely try the young and dumb argument here, but Joe Maddon will have these guys focused, and they have the pitching and offense that can get the job done. It's been a long, hard ten years for this franchise (sarcasm). Even one single playoff victory would exceed all expectations that they may have had going into the season. This team is already in uncharted territory, but should be able to build on this experience for the next few years.

How do these pressure rankings stack up? Anything to wholeheartedly disagree with?