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Duel in the desert
Cubs say being favorites of little matter on the field
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Carlos Zambrano will start tonight for the Cubs.


Daniel White | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/2/2007 11:42 PM

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PHOENIX -- Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa knows all about what being the favorite means in a short series.

"I've been the favorite; I've been the underdog in Atlanta," DeRosa said Tuesday as the Cubs worked out in advance of tonight's National League division series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks. "We've lost both ways, and we've won both ways, too. I don't think it matters. You've got to go out there and play."

A funny thing has happened since baseball's regular season ended. The Cubs somehow have emerged as many people's favorites to beat the D'backs in this best-of-five series.

That's despite the Cubs having an 85-77 regular-season record and Arizona being the only NL team to have won 90 games with a mark of 90-72. (Colorado also won 90, but it took game No. 163 to do it.)

On top of it, the Cubs lost four of six to the D'backs during the regular season.

Apparently, people like the "experience" factor, with the Cubs having a large number of playoff-tested veterans. They also like the Cubs' starting pitching, with Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly ready to go in Games 1 and 2.

DeRosa did his best to say all the right things about the upstarts from the desert while maintaining an air of respectful confidence.

"We have a lot of respect for them," DeRosa said. "They played us tough all year. They're a team that surprised I'm sure not only their fans but the guys in that locker room. They got hot and believed in themselves. They're a bunch of young guys coming together, and they got it done.

"We come in here with a lot of respect for them, but also knowing we got our eye on the prize, too. I like our chances. I like our team in the postseason."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who has played for and managed World Series winners, claimed to know nothing of this business about favorites and underdogs.

"You know, I didn't even know that," he said as he met the national media. "We're going to come in here and play. We played Arizona six times this year. They've beaten us four, we've beaten them twice, but they've all been really competitive games. So we really respect the Diamondbacks."

The Cubs will go with a three-man pitching rotation of Zambrano, Lilly and Rich Hill, with the only risk being how Zambrano comes back on short rest -- it didn't work out well in September when the Cubs tried it.

What also could be giving the Cubs the perceived edge is that their "money" hitters -- Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez -- picked September to get hot.

"Our pitching is strong, and we've got some guys who could pop out of the ballpark," DeRosa said. "They'll say the same thing. They have the best closer in the National League this year (Jose Valverde). We don't want to into the ninth inning being down in the ballgame.

"There's going to be a lot of different ways to think about this. The bottom line is just go out there and step our game up."

So isn't there anybody on the Cubs who will say his team is the favorite?

Apparently not.

"No, no," Soriano said. "If you think like that, you think what happened to the Mets. They (lost) 7 games in like two or three weeks. There's nothing here on paper. It's the players on the field.

"You've got to play with 100 percent concentration because they are a very good team. They are here in the playoffs because they are a good team."