By the Numbers: The real scapegoat
This installment's number is zero, as in none, as in the number of curses the Fire claimed in early-season advertising. Unfortunately, I think this number may have been off by at least one.
If you've been anywhere near the news lately, you've heard calls to denounce and/or withdraw misleading or otherwise damaging negative advertisements. In the spirit of this sentiment, I am here to say unequivocally that the Chicago Fire's "No Curses, Just Wins" billboards gracing various Chicagoland expressways and tollways earlier this season took unnecessary liberties with the perennial misfortunes of a certain north side baseball team, and as the guy on said billboard, I would like to offer an apology to the Cubs and their fans, and beg their forgiveness.
I know that's going to make Fire GM and longtime White Sox fan Peter Wilt wince a little bit, but it had to be said.
Why such drastic measures, you ask? Not to put too fine a point on it, but by trying to draw a stark contrast between the performance of the "Men in Red" and the "Boys in Blue," I feel like we've resigned ourselves to their fate. In pointing out how we're not cursed, we actually cursed, or at least jinxed, our team. As go the Cubs, so will go the Fire.
That's right, I'm tired of trying to figure out why we're not winning more games, so I'm blaming Sam Siannis' goat. I don't make this claim lightly. Let us examine the evidence:
Over a stretch of eight days in the middle of July, right about the All-Star break, the Fire faced their Eastern Conference rivals the Metrostars for the final two times this season and were only able to get one point out of a possible six. The Metrostars have gone on to lead the East ever since. Also in mid-July, and also right around baseball's All-Star Game, the Cubs met the St. Louis Cardinals for their final two series, and only managed one win in five games. The Cardinals have gone on to build an insurmountable lead in the National League Central Division. Granted, the Metrostars are only two points up on Columbus as of this writing, but the way the East has been playing, that may be an equally tough hurdle to climb.
Since ending the season series with the Metrostars, the Fire has been struggling to put itself in a position to make the playoffs, but the top spot in the division is probably out of reach due to the season series with Bob Bradley's squad being over. Since the last Cardinals game, the Cubs have been struggling to win their own place in the post-season via the NL wild card race, as they, too, have no more opportunities to get the big swing in points offered by a head-to-head matchup.
The Fire's season has been plagued with late-game breakdowns, giving up seven out of a total 29 goals in the final fifteen minutes of games in league play. The Cubs' bullpen has similarly had a rough go of it, giving up a lot of runs in key situations. I also see a little bit of a physical resemblance between Cubs reliever Kyle Farnsworth and Fire defender Kelly Gray. Seriously, this can't all be coincidence.
There's more. Eighteen of 22 regular-season goals have come from Fire forwards (although Nate Jaqua may have gotten some while lining up as a midfielder), without the kind of contribution from the midfield and defense that's typically required to be successful. Over at Wrigley, I keep hearing that a majority of Cubs runs have come from home runs, rather than singles and doubles with runners in scoring position. Both teams are overly reliant on their big guns, and as a result, find themselves in trouble when those big guns don't produce.
Speaking of production, the Fire has struggled without Jesse Marsch in the lineup, and his return should give the team a spark that will help them fight for a playoff spot, in part because he tends to enable guys around him to get involved in the offense. Likewise, the absence of third baseman Aramis Ramirez from the Cubs batting order coincided with the worst of the team's offensive performances. Since returning from injury, the Cubs have had a more balanced attack. The same should go for the Fire during the home stretch.
Finally, acquisitions with somewhat difficult pronunciation. Nomar Garciaparra, meet Alex Boucicaut. May you both lead your new teams to glory, and if you could get right on that, we'd appreciate it. There's probably a Mia Hamm joke in there somewhere, too.
The upside of this jinx we find ourselves in is that both teams are largely in control of their postseason destinies. The Cubs still have a shot at the wild card with a late-season schedule against a lot of teams under .500, while the Fire has a handful of conference games left that could vault it up out of the cellar and into the playoffs.
Plus, there's no Open Cup in baseball. Just don't tell the goat.
Chris Costello is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com.