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      Smack Zone — Joe Maddon

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      If Only Cubs-Pirates Was More than One Game ...

      [caption id="attachment_1061" align="alignright" width="240"]Smack Apparel If the curse is going to end this year, it's gotta start Wednesday.[/caption] By Erez Ladetzky, Smack Zone Contributor The National League wildcard game takes place tomorrow night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. It features a division rivalry as the Chicago Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates. It also features two teams that finished with the second- and third-highest win totals in all of MLB, and both would have won any other division that didn’t include the St. Louis Cardinals. This will be the Pirates’ third straight year in the wildcard game, losing last year to the eventual World Series Champions San Francisco Giants. In 2013, they beat the Reds but lost to the Cardinals in the NLDS in five games. They are looking to finally get over the hump this year and take down their division rival Cardinals. The Cubs, on the other hand, are one of the feel-good stories of the year. They weren’t supposed to make the postseason this quickly, but don’t tell them that. Joe Maddon took this very young and inexperienced ball club and turned them into a legitimate World Series contender in his first year. Needless to say, Chicago fans love them some Maddon. Chicago hasn’t been in the postseason since 2008. That year, they ended up getting swept in three games by the Dodgers, a season after getting swept by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. Cubs fans are very confident in this team advancing to take on the Cardinals. That’s because Jake Arrieta and his MLB-history-best  0.45 ERA since the All-Star Break takes the mound. That’s right … A  0.45 ERA -- insane! This game has the makings of a classic October baseball clash. Two teams that both should be in the division series, but have to play this one-game playoff to advance (it would be nice if they at least could play a best-of-three series). A 3-2, or 2-1 game seems about right. Cubs fans will be traveling in droves to the 'burgh to cheer on their beloved Cubbies. Most people know the history of the Cubs, and how fans think the team is cursed. One college professor shows his sympathy for his student: Cubs Student That's our kind of professor! We're going to go out on a limb and take the Buccos in one.  

      The Nats are a Clown Team, Bro

      [caption id="attachment_1128" align="alignright" width="300"]Papelbon: Papelbon: "Hey, bro, run that out!" Harper: "Hey, bro, F you!" Papelbon: "No, bro, F you!" And then they danced.[/caption] So, the Washington Nationals' star player didn't exactly bust it down the line on a can-o-corn pop-out late in yet another disappointing chapter in what was supposed to be their year. It's Bryce Harper, dude. He's going to be the National League's MVP this year -- and many more years in the future. Surely, he can jog one out here and there? Um, no. That's not the way it's done. That's a BS way to play the game, and anybody who knows baseball knows that. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, during his time with the Rays, was known to pull dudes on the spot for not busting it down the first-base line. You going to argue with Joe Ma about the unwritten rules of the game? Hustle is mandatory, and you'd think a manager like Matt Williams, who was known to be a hard-ass as a player, would want more from his young leader. And maybe Williams might have said something later. But ... Then, recently acquired closer Jonathan Papelbon decided to "show leadership." Bad idea. Remember Harper's snide response to a reporter's question a few years ago? "That's a clown question, bro." You know what? The Nationals are now perceived as a clown team, bro. That's a reflection of Williams, certainly, but at some point the superstar needs to step up and stop acting like a nonchalant kid. This piece for Fox Sports by former pitcher C.J. Nitkowski sums up the feeling around baseball: Players Overwhelmingly Support Papelbon. That said, Papelbon was an idiot (it came naturally, we're sure, based on his Red Sox history). He acknowledged later that it wasn't his place to admonish Harper in that spot, that it's Williams' job to do that. And oh, this: Stop choking dudes, Pap. Too late, though. Washington's collapse was complete last week when the Mets clinched the NL East. This is the fallout. And it ain't pretty.