The List of the Five Most Important Series in 2004

Every season there are series that we look back on and say “That’s where they lost it” or “Those games put them over the top”. They are the games that either sink a team or provide that last extra boost that leads to a winning season.

In 2003, the biggest series was arguably the 5 games in 4 days verses the Cardinals in September. After losing 2 of 3 in Busch the previous week, this was an absolutely crucial series that ended up being filled with amazing moments - Prior’s shutout, Sammy hitting a 2 run homer in the 15, the game-deciding fair-ball-called-foul, Alou’s 5 hit/4 RBI performance. By winning 4 out of the 5, the Cubs pulled themselves in between division leading Houston and now third place St. Louis heading into the home stretch. As it turned out, if the Cubs didn’t win that home series, the Cards probably would have won the division.

In looking at the schedule for 2004, I picked 5 series that could have to potential to be king makers or back breakers. A lot more goes into a division crown than one series, but, if we are to believe that this is a team destined to win, these are the games they absolutely have to have.

5.Marlins @ Cubs 9/10-9/12

After being embarrassed by Florida at home in the deciding games of the NLCS, I think the Cubs probably have this one circled on their calendars. While I don’t think the Marlins are going to the playoffs this year, they still have a really tough staff led by Josh Beckett that can out-pitch anyone. The difference is the Cubs upgraded their offense and the Marlins got out-sourced. We made a steal getting Derrick Lee for Choi and Pudge simply got greedy. The Cubs need this one as a stepping stone to move on from last year. Part of me wishes this was earlier in the season but I think 2-of-3 or a sweep against them down the stretch would do wonders for the team’s morale, especially in a tight race.

4.Cubs @ Phillies 7/23-7/25

The Phillies seem to be the team to beat in the East this year. Atlanta and Florida lost too many key players. Philly added Wagner, Worrell, and Milton to an already excellent staff. If both the Cubs and Philadelphia have the seasons that everyone is predicting, this could be Fox’s 2004 NLCS match-up. I placed the away series higher than the home because the Cubs need to know that they can go into Citizen’s Bank and win. There are always adjustments that players need to make on a new field. The Phillies will have 81 games to get comfortable. The Cubs will have 3. Knowing you can win in their house if you have to go there for a championship game is vital.

3. Braves @ Cubs 10/1-10/3

As the last series of the season, these games would be absolutely crucial if the magic number isn’t below 2. Houston finishes up at home verses the Rockies and the Cards face the Brewers in Busch. Atlanta is probably not going to get to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years (and we aren’t going to hear nearly the amount of bellyaching about this as we would have if this happened to the Yankees). Hampton and Ortiz are still 2 of the best arms in MLB but Smoltz pitched in obvious pain in the playoffs last year and now they have El Pulpo in the pen. I do have this creeping fear of Juan Cruz pitching a no-hitter against us in the last game of the season to keep us out of the playoffs, but we traded him because he can’t hold it together on the mound, right?

2. Reds @ Cubs 9/27-9/30

The last divisional series of the year and a 4 gamer to boot. The Reds look to be much improved this year, signing Cory Lidle and if Junior can stay healthy they’ll have plenty of power with Kearns, Casey, Dunn, and LaRue. I don’t think they have a chance at the division title but they do play role spoiler really well. This will be the series that determines if the Atlanta series means anything or, if the division is aleady set, it would be nice to win out the last week for some momentum going into the playoffs or next season.

1. Astros @ Cubs 8/26-8/29

Odds are the Cubs and Astros will be the divisional winner and the NL wild card so this 4 game series in Wrigley may very well determine who gets home field advantage. The winner of this series could go into September with a huge lead in the central. With a comparatively lighter schedule the rest of the way, a sweep or 3 of 4 would really put the momentum behind the Cubs. While they are favored to win because of their pitching, the Astros’ bats have only got older, and the team is probably one or two years away from rebuilding. If they are going to win, they need to win now and they are primed to do it this year, but then so are the Cubs. This series has the potential to determine, not only who wins the Central, but the National League Championship as well.

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