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Series Forty-Three: Marlins at Cubs

As you know, we've done series previews with mascots from each Marlins opponent for every series the Marlins have played this year. We even did this for the first two series against the Cubs. Unfortunately, we weren't able to do that for this series. I will be blunt with you about what happen: Grover freaked out.

You see, Grover (although he's never discussed it before as he likes to maintain his asexual public persona) was in a relationship with a woman named Katrina for a number of years. Sadly, the relationship didn't work out, it got quite ugly... and let's just say that Grover and Katrina don't see each other anymore.

When Grover heard that Hurricane Katrina was headed for South Florida, he got out of town pretty quickly. I believe (although I have not heard from him) that he headed to Chicago, so that he could take in this weekend's series with Sam Sianis' goat.

That left me in a bit of a bind - because you know I hate to get your negative email when I fail to do something that I promised to do (or at least led you to believe that I was going to do). So I was forced to improvise. In some ways what I have for you today is not as good as usual (in that there's no Grover and no goat), but in many ways it's much better than what you usually get at FishStripes. That's because we had a real, live person answer some questions. Quite frankly (in the words of Steven A. Smith), our real, live person is much better written and a more entertaining read than my dear friend Grover.

Al, from Bleed Cubbie Blue, was kind enough to answer some Marlins-Cubs related questions for us in advance of this weekend's series. I even answered some Marlins related questions for him - which you may be able to find over at his site.

Here's what we talked to Al about:

1. Lately it seems like Dusty could be on his way out. Do you think he'll be the Cubs manager next season? If not, what needs to happen to save his job/keep him in Chicago?

Dusty Baker is absolutely, positively going to be the Cubs manager in 2006. He's under contract, and despite a loud chorus of Cub fans calling for his head, Jim Hendry isn't going to cut him loose before the end of his deal; if he did, that'd be two high-profile managers in the last five years (Don Baylor as well) that the Cubs would eat a million-dollar-plus year or more of a contract. It simply won't happen.

Baker's strengths and weaknesses are well known. Hendry didn't prepare a very good roster for Baker to use this year, partly because of the Sammy Sosa Circus, partly due to injuries and the failure to recognize that LaTroy Hawkins was not a closer. This cost the Cubs at least four games before they
finally installed Ryan Dempster as closer, and he has done a good job.

2. Who's next year's opening day shortstop for the Cubs - Nomar, Neifi, or someone else?

I'd pick Nomar. He could be the on-field leader that the Cubs have been looking for since Damian Miller and Eric Karros left after 2003; he's just
been hurt too much. I'd offer him a incentive-laden contract with option years; that way, if he makes his incentives (at-bats, games played, etc.) he gets his money, if not, you cut him loose after one more year. He and Mia Hamm are building a house in the Chicago area; they like it here, and I know he wants to stay.

Neifi Perez is a useful utility player, but starting him every day for an extended period is a recipe for failure.

Could they go after free agent Rafael Furcal? Maybe, but I think he's so valuable to the Braves that they'll re-sign him. I like Nomar, and I'd like to see him for just one full season, at least, to see what he can do. He is only two years removed from a .301, 120 run, 28 HR, 105 RBI season.

3. I'm sure we have a different take on the 2003 NLCS. Who or what do you fault for the Cubs losing that series (or do you think it was more a matter of the Marlins coming back to win the series)? What was the most painful end
to a season in your memory?

Well, that had to be it, in terms of pain. Five outs away and rolling along. I do not blame Bartman; that was only a potential trigger. The key to game six was Alex Gonzalez (our guy, not yours) booting a sure inning-ending DP ball, which would have gotten the Cubs to the ninth leading 3-1. It hurts. A lot.

One of the other keys to that series was not going in for the kill in game 5. Beckett was lights-out, when the Cubs had the Marlins on the ropes and could have won it in Miami.

That said, I give credit to the Marlins for winning; it wasn't just the Cubs losing. They took advantage of every opportunity that was given to them, and that's what winning teams do.

You'll forgive me if I don't say too much more. Two years later, it still hurts. A lot.

4. If the Cubs don't make the post-season, will you be cheering for the White Sox?

Hoo boy, another tough one. I am watching the White Sox with bemusement right now as they are not winning, and looking bad doing it. If they back into the playoffs (similar to the way they did in 2000, when they had a mediocre second half after breezing through the first half), they could go three-and-out, particularly if they play the A's. Oakland has their number and they know it.

Will I "root" for them? No. I think fan allegiance is to one team only, and mine's to the Cubs. I suppose if they win, it's "good" in some way for the city of Chicago.

Don't even think of asking what I'd do if there's a White Sox/Cardinals World Series. Maybe watch "Entourage".

5. What does the future hold for Kerry Wood?

Here's what someone in Cub management has to do with Kerry: sit him down and explain how Dennis Eckersley was converted to closer in mid-career and rode it all the way to the Hall of Fame. Or how John Smoltz, beset with injury problems, spent 3 1/2 years as a closer, was lights-out, made a ton of money, and then when his arm was totally sound again, returned to the rotation.

Wood has been terrific -- a couple of damaging homers notwithstanding -- in relief. He consistently throws 97, 98 MPH and has a devastating 88 MPH slider that no one can touch. Throwing one inning at a time saves wear and tear on his elbow.

I'd install him at closer and re-sign Dempster to be his primary setup man. That solidifies the bullpen, although it also means you have to go out and find a quality starting pitcher. But the Cubs have had so many bullpen woes over the last decade -- you have to go back to Randy Myers to find someone who closed successfully for the Cubs for more than one season in recent years -- that when a solution like this presents itself, I believe you take it. I'd much rather see Wood closing, than hear for the umpteenth time that he's got a "twinge" in his elbow and has to spend another month or two on the DL.

Our sincere thanks to Al from BCB. If you'd like to see more interviews like this in the future, please leave a comment, write a diary, or send Grover an email with the questions you'd like asked (for a specific team).