As is customary, Lou Piniella met with the media for several minutes prior to Game 1 of the National…
Len Kasper on Cubs Postseason
A: I'm not surprised. It's impressive that they were picked to be the best team in the National League really when Spring Training started and they were that team. I think there was a lot of pressure this year to be the best team in the NL, and they proved it every single day. (They) were very consistent offensively. I think that's the biggest surprise … that they led the league in runs. I thought it would be a good offense; I just didn't know how good it could be. The on-base percentage was tremendous; I think they led the league in walks. They just had so many huge innings; six, seven, eight-run innings. They put teams away with really one big inning and that's something we hadn't seen over the past several years, so that was great to see.
The starting rotation, which I think we all thought would be a pretty good strength, was even better than advertised. You add Rich Harden to the mix, Dempster and Lilly each with 17 wins, Carlos Zambrano even though he struggled there at the end … if you look at the overall numbers they were very good. And Jason Marquis had a strong second half, which was encouraging as well.
Q: Do you sense that there's any sort of tension between Zambrano and Lou Piniella because of the incident against the Cardinals a couple of weeks back?
A: No, I mean, I don't. I think it's just baseball and Carlos is going through a rollercoaster right now. He's going to start Game 2 of the Division Series and he even agreed with Lou that Ryan Dempster -- let's put it this way: Z the day before said, when asked by the writers about the division series, he said Ryan Dempster deserves a Game 1 start, and then the next day Lou basically announced that that was what was going to happen. So they were on the same page there and they also seemed to agree that Z's emotions sometimes get the better of him. I anticipate he's going to be really good in the playoffs. He normally bounces back after a couple of bad starts, and I just have a good feeling that he's going to pitch really well in the postseason.
Q: What did you make of the decision to have Dempster start Game 1?
A: I mean, it was a no-brainer in my opinion. He's a Cy Young candidate; he probably won't win it, but he should get a lot of votes and it'll be interesting to see where he does finish. But 17 wins, 14 of which came at home; fantastic ERA, which was [2.96]. What could you ask for from a guy that hadn't been a full-time starter in a long, long time? I'm very happy for ‘Demp'; he worked so hard in the offseason to get in the best physical shape of his life. He's mentally as tough as any starting pitcher I've been around. He never gets rattled and he's exactly the kind of pitcher you want in Game 1 and possibly Game 5 of a first-round series.
Q: What lessons, if any, do you think the Cubs learned from last year's playoffs that they'll be able to apply to this year?
A: Well, I think they learned just how fast it can happen if you don't get off to a good start. It's hard to explain offensively the struggles they had against the Diamondbacks. But again, I just look at this offense and it's much more consistent (and) more patient. That should bode well, but having said that, they go up against a Dodger pitching staff that led the league in ERA. This is not going to be an easy series by any stretch of the imagination. Both teams pitch extremely well. The Cubs' offense, again the elite offense of the National League and the Dodgers, even though they finished 13th in runs, this is a much different and more dynamic offense than the one you saw in late May and early June. When you add Manny Ramirez to the mix and now Rafael Furcal in the leadoff spot, those are huge additions to a lineup that definitely needed them. If you look at their last two months, they were as good as any offense in the league.
Q: If you had a vote for the Cubs' MVP this season, would you make one and who would you choose?
A: It's really tough to make one because you have Soto, DeRosa, Ramirez, Soriano, Dempster, and Marmol, and you can keep going right down the list. I guess if I had to pick one, I would pick Geovany Soto just because he played through a couple of little nagging injuries; nothing that was serious to keep him out of the lineup. But as a catcher, you really get beat up back there as [Bob Brenly] can attest to. He kept going out there every day, pretty much all season and played at an extremely high level, not only offensively but defensively in the way he handled the pitching staff.
He should take a lot of pride in the Cubs' pitching numbers this season: third in the league in ERA, he caught a no-hitter and came up with so many clutch hits. I just think that position is so critical, but for Soto to step up and probably be the National League Rookie of the Year says a lot about how good a player he is being in a lineup of veterans and being considered for the team MVP.
Q: Any surprises to you on the postseason roster?
A: I think the only one was the Pie-Hoffpauir decision, but it sounds like it came down to Mark DeRosa's calf injury, and if Mark had been healthy it might have been Hoffpauir to add a little power off that bench to go with Daryle Ward on the left side. It just sounds like they want to make sure that if DeRo had any sort of issue, that Pie could be there as a defensive replacement late in the ballgame. I haven't seen a lineup for Game 1 … so my question is, is DeRosa going to play second or right? We don't really know yet, and Pie just gives you so more options with the speed and the defense late in the ballgame. I guess you could also look at the fact that what Hoffpauir does, Daryle Ward also gives you off the bench.
I think Micah will be ready if needed in the NLCS. We still could see him down the road. There was nothing that he did wrong. He was just fantastic at the plate, not only with the Cubs but also down at Triple-A Iowa. But I have a good feeling that Micah is going to be on the opening day roster in 2009. But Felix brings the speed dimension and the excellent defense in the outfield late in ballgames, and all those things are very important in the postseason.
Q: You talked earlier about the Dodgers. What impresses you the most about them? They've changed a lot since the Cubs last saw them.
A: I haven't really seen them a whole lot since the Cubs played them in late May and early June when the Cubs won five of seven. But the biggest change is Manny Ramirez. Just a monstrous final two months. I just think again, offensively, they're a lot better than the team we saw early in the year. The common theme of this series is pitching on both sides, so I guess I would look for a fairly low-scoring series. These offenses are capable of putting up good numbers. (Wednesday), with Derek Lowe and Ryan Dempster on the mound, (they are) two excellent starting pitchers who get a lot of groundballs. The Dodgers keep the ball in the ballpark. They gave up the fewest home runs in the major leagues. I anticipate a fairly low-scoring series because of the excellent pitching on both sides. Ultimately I give the edge to the Cubs because I think their offense overall is a little bit better than the Dodgers'.
Q: What are your plans for the postseason?
A: I'll be doing some pre- and post-game work for both Comcast Sports Net and WGN television. I'll be at all the games, including the ones on the road as I'll be traveling with the team. I think Bob will be back with the team coming up at some point. He wanted to watch his son, Michael, play in the Instructional League down in Arizona and I know he'll be keeping very close tabs on the Cubs. We're just happy to be able to be around it and be able to watch the team go as deep as they can. We're going to be cheering them on just like Cubs fans everywhere, and I'm real excited for Pat and Ron and Corey. Maybe they'll get to call the first Cubs World Series since 1945.
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