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Image credit: USA Today Sports

Previously in this series:
Confessions of a Fake Manager: The Set Up
Confessions of a Fake Manager: April
Confessions of a Fake Manager: May
Confessions of a Fake Manager: June
Confessions of a Fake Manager: July
Confessions of a Fake Manager: August
Confessions of a Fake Manager: September

In an effort to become the perfect SaberManager™, I’m taking over the 2005 Cubs and leading them through a simulated season in Out of the Park. I’ll do all of the things that I’ve told managers they should be doing, while paying attention both to how feasible strategies are in isolation and within the context of a baseball team playing a baseball season. For more details and a full explanation of why and how I’ve chosen to do this—and with 2005 Cubs of all teams—click here.

***

Game 159 (September 29) – at Astros; Loss 3-4 (12) ; Record: 93-66
Game 160 (September 30) – at Astros; Win 14-3; Record: 94-66
Game 161 (October 1) – at Astros; Loss 4-8; Record: 94-67
Game 162 (October 2) – at Astros; Loss 2-4; Record: 94-68

After the series, it became official that the Cubs would face off against the Phillies in the Division Series, which curiously, is slated for seven games (computer bug?). I have no idea what’s up with that. But now not only am I the Perfect Sabermanager™, I’m also a Perfect Playoff Sabermanager™.

In the playoffs, my plan is to use a three-“man” rotation, with Greg Maddux starting Game 1, Carlos Zambrano in Game 2, and the re-paired tandem of Ricky Nolasco and Rich Hill (both rookies) in Game 3. Kerry Wood and Sergio Mitre might form a fourth starter, as Mark Prior just missed being fit enough to NLDS duty, but I think I’d rather have them available for relief work instead. Glendon Rusch (rhymes with “man crush”) is available along with the unholy quartet of Ryan Dempster, Michael Wuertz, Will Ohman, and Mike Remlinger.

On the offensive side, I realize that I’ve essentially come full circle. Before Opening Day, these were the lineups that I had set out for myself:

Lineup vs. RHP Lineup vs. LHP
Nomar Garciaparra, SS Nomar Garciaparra, SS
Derrek Lee, 1B Derrek Lee, 1B
Aramis Ramirez, 3B Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Todd Walker, 2B Michael Barrett, C
Michael Barrett, C Todd Walker, 2B
Jeromy Burnitz, RF Jeromy Burnitz, RF
Todd Hollandsworth, LF Jason Dubois, LF
Corey Patterson, CF Jerry Hairston Jr., CF
Pitcher, SP Pitcher, SP

Todd Hollandsworth is gone, and Jason Dubois hit so well that he plays against both lefties and righties. Nomar Garciaparra is once again slotted to hit first against lefties (I’ve kept Todd Walker in the leadoff spot against righties.) But other than that, it all looks about the same.

Should I be worried that I have evolved so little?

***

Game 1 – NLDS (October 6) – at Phillies; Win 3-2; Cubs Lead Series 1-0

A meditation on five decisions.

1) In the second inning, the Phillies placed runners on second and third with one out. Catcher and eighth-spot hitter Mike Lieberthal was coming to the plate, with pitcher Brett Myers on deck. The game was still scoreless, but I had a strategic decision to make. The danger of second and third with fewer than two outs is that there are ways to push across a run even while making an out, particularly on a ground ball. Lieberthal might not have been a great hitter, but he was most certainly better than Myers.

I could have issued an intentional walk to Lieberthal, loading the bases but bringing up Myers, who was a) much more likely to strike out, and b) more likely to make weak contact. As an added bonus, the walk would put the double play in order and the fact that the bases would be loaded could severely crimp any ideas that Myers may have had about bunting. In a perfect situation, Myers hits a weak ground ball for a double play. In the most likely situation, he strikes out, leaving the bases loaded with two outs, but giving Phillies leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton a shot at driving in a couple of runs.

I could have pitched to Lieberthal. I’m likely going to have to get at least one out in a situation that involves runners in scoring position, and if I can get Lieberthal to be that out, suddenly I’m pitching to the pitcher with two outs. If I were a real manager, I would probably have faced this decision a few times in the past, and have made up my mind as to which option I preferred. I realized in that moment that I had no clue what to do.

Lieberthal hit a ground ball to second baseman Todd Walker and was thrown out. Jimmy Rollins scored from third base. Three pitches later, Myers grounded out to Walker, and the inning was over. Philadelphia had a 1-0 lead.

2) In the bottom of the fourth inning, Rollins tripled with two outs, bringing David Bell to the plate. I reminded myself that if only Maddux could induce an out here, Rollins’ triple essentially meant nothing. Sure enough, Maddux got Bell to hit a soft grounder to my shortstop Garciaparra. Nomah fielded the ball and decided that instead of throwing it to Derrek Lee at first base, a fan in the second row would appreciate the ball more.

I don’t know whether the fan appreciated the ball, but I sure didn’t appreciate the throw. Rollins scored from third and the Phillies were up 2-0. At the beginning of the year, the decision that weighed most heavily on my mind was whether I should start the defensively challenged but still good-hitting Garciaparra at shortstop over defensive wizard Neifi Perez. On Opening Day, when Aramis Ramirez was seemingly lost to a season-long injury, the choice was taken out of my hands. I could play Garciaparra at third and Perez at short. When Ramirez came back, though, I had to re-make that same decision, and I still opted for Garciaparra.

The annoying thing about strategic decisions is that sometimes, your decision will look silly in retrospect. Garciaparra’s still the better choice and I don’t regret the decision overall. But in that moment, I sure did.

3) By the top of the eighth, solo home runs from Jeromy Burnitz and Michael Barrett had tied the game. The Phillies, sensing the urgency of the fact that it’s the playoffs, brought closer Billy Wagner in to preserve an eighth-inning tie. My own pitching situation was also at an inflection point. Maddux had already tossed seven innings and had only racked up 86 pitches. After a Jerry Hairston Jr. strikeout to lead off the inning, Maddux’s turn came in the batting order.

Option 1 was pinch-hitting for Maddux. The maxim that the two most important runs in a game are the run that ties the game and the run that un-ties the game rang in my head. I needed to jump-start a rally here and Mad Dog, as good a pitcher as he was, was no match for any of the guys on my bench with the bat. I would have plenty of time to warm up my security blanket, Rusch. As an added bonus, the Phillies were scheduled to bat Bobby Abreu, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley (all lefties) in the bottom of the eighth, which meant that the lefty Rusch would have the platoon edge.

Option 2 was to let Maddux hit for himself. He’d probably make an out, but I could probably get another inning (or two) out of him, and I could avoid tapping into my haunted bullpen. I’d still have Rusch available if the game was tied in the ninth (or 10th). And while pinch-hitting was the better offensive move, was a bench bat (probably Calvin Murray) really been a match against a rested, Hall of Fame-ish closer in his prime? Would I be burning Maddux for no particular reason?

Maddux struck out, as did Walker. In the bottom of the eighth inning, he gave up two hits, but got three outs.

4) In the top of the ninth inning, Wagner was still out there for the Phillies and he faced the second hitter in my lineup, as my batting order came back around for its fourth trip. Because I am the Perfect Sabermager™, that hitter was Derrek Lee, rather than someone like Corey Patterson (because he’s fast!). And as the ball left Lee’s bat and traveled 360 feet down the line into the Citizens’ Bank Ballpark stands, I smiled to myself.

5) Ah, but the bottom of the ninth awaited, and with a one-run lead I had another pitching decision to make. Maddux had probated the eighth inning in nine pitches, leaving him with a pitch count of 95 as he entered the ninth and a reasonable chance to finish off the game. The bottom of the Phillies’ order was due up: David Bell (Shane Victorino pinch-hit), Lieberthal, and the pitcher’s spot (eventually, it became Jason Michaels). In the top of the inning, I had warmed up Remlinger and Wuertz, who were both ready, but I decided to stick with the Mad Dog.

Victorino singled, but Lieberthal turned the second pitch of his at bat into a Walker-Garciaparra-Lee twin-killing. Maddux had just crossed the century mark with that pitch, so I figured I’d let him finish it out. Michaels singled, which probably should have been a cue for me to lift Maddux, but I decided to let him go another batter, this time facing Lofton. He put the first pitch of his at-bat into right field, sending Michaels–the tying run–to third. As cool as it would have been to see Maddux finish what he started, it was time.

Remlinger struck out Bob Abreu to close the game.

They say that every decision is bigger in the playoffs. (They’re right, whoever they are.) I sure felt it, and I’m just playing a video game. I honestly don’t know if I made the right decisions on any of these. If any of them had imploded on me, there would be a whole bunch of “them” who would be talking about what a horrible human being I am. But I’m proud of myself. I made those decisions. Maybe it’s a lot easier to be proud of yourself when you’ve cheated death, but I made it.

***

Game 2 – NLDS (October 7) – at Phillies; Loss 3-5; Series Tied 1-1

It was as if I went through the mirror. This game proceeded much the same way as Game 1, except that everything I did in Game 1 didn’t work in Game 2. I had two more instances of the “Lieberthal coming to bat with a runner on third and fewer than two outs” problem. In the second inning, I walked him, only to have Philadelphia starting pitcher Jon Lieber hit a sacrifice fly. In the fourth, I pitched to him and he singled in a run, and then Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel pinch-hit for Lieber.

Carlos Zambrano had a good start through six innings, and in the top of the seventh he was due up second, with the game tied at 3-3. I didn’t want to lose Big Z, although Hairston made the decision a little easier by singling to start the inning. Perfect excuse! Zambrano could bunt. The problem was that he popped up the bunt and it turned into a double play. In the bottom of the seventh, a walk and three singles produced two runs for the Phillies, and that’s how a ballgame slips away from you.

Also worrying: the Cubs have score three runs in both games, with all six runs coming on solo home runs (Burnitz, Barrett, and Lee in Game 1; Garciaparra, Hairston, and Walker in Game 2). Amazing how a winning recipe one day can become a turnip sandwich the next.

***

Game 3 – NLDS (October 9) – vs. Phillies; Loss 1-4; Phillies Lead Series 2-1

I’d like to say that there was something interesting that happened in this game. Corey Lidle (I’ll pause and let that sink in) pitched seven innings of one-hit ball. Once again, the only run was a Burnitz solo home.

It. Just. Didn’t. Work.

***

Game 4 – NLDS (October 10) – vs. Phillies; Win 11-3; Series Tied 2-2

It’s really easy to manage when your team scores eight runs in an inning. The Cubs did it in the seventh inning before an out was recorded.

I started Maddux on three days’ rest, and he didn’t have the masterpiece-type game that he did in Game 1, lasting 5 1/3 innings but only giving up three runs. A combination of Wood and Rusch kept things close until the Cubs blew it open in the seventh. I’m not entirely sure if I did anything that contributed to the outcome, but I’ll take it.

***

Game 5 – NLDS (October 11) – vs. Phillies; Win 4-0; Cubs Lead Series 3-2

Big Z on three days’ rest. Seven innings. Three hits. No runs. In the eighth inning, Aramis Ramirez hit a three-run home run that put the game out of reach. Once again, I was just along for the ride.

***

Game 6 – NLDS (October 13) – at Phillies; Loss 4-20; Series Tied 3-3

Henry Blanco actually pitched in a playoff game. That’s about all you need to know.

So, we’re going to Game 7 of the Division Series. Yes, I know that looks like a misprint. OOTP did something weird.

***

Game 7 – NLDS (October 14) – at Phillies; Loss 5-8; Phillies Win Series 4-3

That’s not how the Hollywood ending is supposed to go. The narrator is always supposed to find a way to win. Whatever that means.

Maddux went again on short rest and looked mortal, giving up two home runs in the first inning, and another to Phillies starting pitcher Cory Lidle in the third inning, and exited before the fourth started. The Cubs never really caught back up. Wood came on in relief and gave up two runs in three innings. Even the reliable Rusch gave up a pair. I’m not entirely sure what I was supposed to find.

As a final insult, in the eighth inning, with Ramirez on third and one out (down 8-2), Burnitz hit a ball to deep center field that Michaels caught. The program asked me if I wanted to send Ramirez. I demurred. I’m the guy who says that third base coaches should be fired because they are too conservative.

Looking back, I wonder whether it was a mistake to go with the three-man rotation. Or to push Maddux in his Game 1 start. Maybe if I wasn’t so afraid of my bullpen, I would have kept Maddux’s pitch count down. Maybe if I hadn’t tried this whole crazy tandem-starter thing, I would have had a regular starting rotation and four guys who I could count on to get six innings.

After this game, I probably would have had to stand up in the locker room and address my guys who fought for six-and-a-half months to get to this point only to have it end like this. How do you tell that group that your strategy might have been what cost them a chance to move on? Or maybe I could say with conviction to myself that … well, the playoffs are a crapshoot. I played a team that won 101 games in the (fake) season (and eventually went on to win the fake World Series). I don’t honestly know what I would have said.

And so, my Cubs go back to Chicago and I go back to my couch.

I took a team into the playoffs (in a video game). It’s odd the way that we think about a season. Teams that haven’t broken 70 wins in a while, rejoice in their 71st, but then immediately want to get to .500. Those who haven’t made .500 in a while rejoice in their 82nd win, but then realize that they haven’t made the playoffs. Those who make the playoffs but lose in the NLDS realize that it was a nice ride, but it’s not a World Series.

The Cubs had a good year. An above-average year. They weren’t lifting the trophy. There was a point early in this “season” where I was happy to just be above .500. I went further than I could have possibly expected. I should probably feel good about that.

In reality, I’m sad, Doc. I’m just sad. I don’t know how anyone does this year after year after year. You literally spend an entire year, maybe two percent of your adult life, pursuing this one thing. No matter how close you get to it, you won’t be happy until you get it. No matter how many times you try, chances are you won’t get it, and it’s not like you get an infinite number of tries. That’s baseball in a nutshell. Not only is it designed to break your heart, it’s damn good at it, too.

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Marc Stone
11/16
Since the Cubs won the best of five, you should advance to the next round.
Russell A. Carleton
11/17
And trust me, I wasn't bitter about that at all. Not. One. Bit.
Michael McKay
11/21
Russell -- While I was sorry to see the story come to an end, this was one of the best features I have seen in 10+ years as a BP subscriber. Thank you for sharing "everything" (both SABRthinking and emotions)