It's all about balance in the land of baseball.
When told his team probably has the softest September schedule among NL Central contenders, Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa had the perfect response: "Do we?"
In this case, ignorance is more than bliss. It's crucial to one's sanity.
"It's there for us if we want it. It's there for us if we play well enough," Lou Piniella said Thursday night, when his Cubs beat Milwaukee 5-4 to stretch their division lead to a season-high 2 1/2 games. "It's fun. That's what you go to spring training for, what you posture for all summer long, to get to this point. And what you find out in September is if you're good enough."
Sure, it's tempting for Cubbieland denizens to look at a final-month schedule full of Pittsburghs, Cincinnatis, Houstons and Floridas and proclaim: "The Central is ours!"
Problem is, MLB powers-that-be actually expect the Cubs to earn the right to fly the "W" flag in center field each day.
That same annoying requirement killed the Cubs in 2004, when the North Side Heroes went into Sept. 25 with a 2 1/2-game wild-card lead over Houston and an "easy" closing schedule. While the Cubs wrapped their hands firmly around their throats and went 1-5 against the Mets and Reds -- teams that finished a combined 30 games under .500 -- the Astros swept the World Series-bound Cardinals and finished with seven straight victories.
So this time around, Cubbie fans shouldn't torture themselves. They shouldn't go through the schedule saying, "We should win that one ... and that one ... and that one."
Professional sports don't work that way -- especially baseball. Even brutally bad ballclubs win 40 percent of the time and even top teams lose that often. There are so many factors, from slumps that seem to come out of nowhere to weather to broken-bat bloopers to injuries.
The biggest factor: the opponent's starting pitcher. Although the Reds, Pirates and Astros are also-rans, they send the likes of Aaron Harang, Tom Gorzelanny and Roy Oswalt to the mound. For example, the Cardinals had to face Oswalt on Wednesday while the Cubs will miss the Houston ace this weekend.
And there are far too many unexplainables in baseball.
Asked Thursday why a club with Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez has trouble hitting left-handers, the best Piniella could offer was: "I don't know." Asked why a team with those three All-Stars plus Jacque Jones and Cliff Floyd ranks 14th in the NL in homers, all Lou could do was shrug.
Matt Murton and Alfonso Soriano then won the game with sixth-inning homers off Brewers lefty Chris Capuano. Go figure.
Murton had become the Cubs' forgotten man, buried deep on Piniella's bench. Soriano -- the $136 million slugger who had struggled since coming off the disabled list -- had been booed by ever-supportive Cubbie fans just two innings earlier, when he struck out for the third time.
There are no givens in baseball, and isn't that one reason we love the game?
Sometimes, frustrated fans ask: "Don't these guys know how important these games are?"
Believe me, folks, they know. And that might be part of the problem. Baseball isn't football -- and Piniella isn't about to give Rockne-esque speeches designed to make frenzied players slap each other's shoulder pads and charge onto the field hootin' and hollerin'.
"They play once a week," Piniella said of football coaches. "If I gave speeches every day, people would be hiding in the bathroom."
Fact is, the Knute Rockne approach would be counterproductive in baseball. Ballplayers don't need to be psyched up; they need to relax. Every fifth Cubs game, Carlos Zambrano proves that.
Decades ago, George Carlin had a hilarious routine about the differences between football and baseball. Seriously, though, the big difference is that football is all about emotion while baseball is all about finding a balance.
That balance thing can be mighty difficult to locate in Cubbieland, where a 99-year slump has the natives restless.
"If you're winning, it's the best place in the world to be," DeRosa said. "If (not), you're as depressed as the fans. You search for that even keel, but right now it seems everything is either a peak or a valley."
So enjoy, folks. And go searching the schedule for future peaks and valleys at your own peril. If you choose to do otherwise, don't say you weren't warned.
Mike Nadel (email@example.com) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com .