The real reason the Cubs lost: Scouting

Either that or it's because the Dodgers played better for three games.


King Kaufman
October 6, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)

You know what the Cubs' problem was? Scouting.

It was clear for a good while that Chicago was going to have the best record in the National League, and that the winner of the N.L. West, which would have the worst record among N.L. playoff teams, would play them if Milwaukee won the wild card. So the Cubs got good and scouted, and it messed 'em up.

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It's always something, isn't it? That's how you go such a long time without winning the World Series. It's been at least 12 years or something for the Cubs, I think I heard recently.

The scouting theory isn't mine. I stole it from Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, who's been moonlighting as a sideline reporter for TBS during the playoffs. During Game 3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers' sweep of the Cubs, just after Alfonso Soriano -- who ended up 1-for-14 -- made another out, lead announcer Dick Stockton threw it to Verducci for some elucidation.

"Normally during the course of the season, Dick, the advanced scouts will sit on a team for a series, maybe two series," Verducci said, "but as Lou Piniella pointed out, the Dodgers have been sitting on the Cubs here for three weeks. They know every single weakness on this team, and when you get into a postseason situation, there are fewer mistakes made by pitchers. Soriano is a great mistake hitter. Haven't seen many in this series."

There's actually a technical term for this type of theory, which is Piniella's, not necessarily Verducci's. The term is cockamamie.

Because that's all it takes? Three weeks of advanced scouting instead of one? Spend an extra couple of weeks watching an opponent, learning their mistakes, and their great players are rendered helpless? Evidently what the scouts told the Dodgers pitchers about Soriano was not to make mistakes to him. Thanks, scouts!

As if there weren't already a book on Soriano, who's had more than 5,000 plate appearances in the major leagues since he broke in nine years ago.

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If scouting a team for three weeks instead of for a series or two had any real effect, wouldn't every team do it all the time? What would it cost, a couple million bucks a year? Teams spend that on a utility infielder.

The Piniella-Verducci theory is one of those attempts to find a complicated explanation for something pretty simple. Those are thick on the ground after postseason sweeps. The simple thing is that for -- in this case -- three days, one team played well and the other didn't. When it happens in June everybody just shrugs their shoulders. When it happens in October, we must find reasons.

But it's the same game. The games mean more, but the game is the same.

Soriano, like a lot of his mates, had a lousy three games against a pitching staff that had a great three games.

Soriano has a pretty poor career line in the postseason -- if you can picture how bad Yankees fans think Alex Rodriguez has been, that's about as bad as Soriano's been -- so one theory is that he's a choker, that he just can't hit when it counts.

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But he did hit in the 2001 A.L. Championship Series and the 2003 division series, and you might remember a pretty clutchy home run in the 2001 World Series. For all his playoff failures -- a career .213 average, .263 on-base percentage and .299 slugging average -- we're only talking about 44 games, 174 at-bats. That's not enough evidence to say a guy can't do something. After 174 career at-bats, Mike Schmidt had a .218 batting average.

And if players don't do well because they choke, how do you explain Jim Edmonds, who had a solid season after signing with the Cubs and came into the series with a .277/.365/.523 line and 13 home runs in 61 postseason games. He's no choker. But he went 2-for-10.

The Dodgers are playing as well as any of the playoff teams, maybe pitching better than any of them, though their next opponent, the Philadelphia Phillies, might argue after the way they shut down the Milwaukee Brewers. That's the reason the Cubs got blown away. They just got outplayed for three days. Simple as that.

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Also, they're cursed.

This story has been corrected since publication.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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