NLDS Series Preview: Cubs vs. Dodgers
While doing a guest spot on the podcast of LA Times journos and bloggers The Kamenetzky Brothers I thought of this analogy: many are invited to the dance, but only one gets crowned king. The playoffs are not easy, not for anybody be they as free-wheeling as the Rays, as experienced as the Red Sox, or as burdened with pressure as the Dodgers and Cubs are. The following games will be stressful.
If you're like me, you've been reading alllll the news stories. You've seen on ESPN a headline with Cubs hugging, reading "All The Way?" You've read the Jayson Stark article predicting a Cubs World Championship. You've seen the Rick Reilly piece in which he serves as a "Cubs buzzkill." You've been over to the Tribune and seen all the stories there. You've scoured the boards and the blogs and encountered wave after wave of bravado, bluster, and underlying Cubbie Angst.
Funny thing about most of it: they're looking at the prize, not the obstical. People are so busy asking "will the Cubs win the Series" that they are overlooking the hurdle in our path: the LA Dodgers. But if you visit this blog - and obviously you do, or else you wouldn't be reading this - you have now seen the following:
Here Come the Dodgers - by Jason, giving us our first look at the Cubs' first round opponent.
Lou Ain't Gonna Change Now - by Rob, speculating that Senior Piniella has a game plan that he will stick to regarding the lineups and his insistance on moving guys around.
NLDS Scouting Report: Chicago Cubs - by Me (say it!)
A Look At The Odds - by Colin, who had to bring math into it. But it's ok - turns out the Cubs are favored to win.
NLDS Scouting report: LA Dodgers - by Me (say it again!)
A Look at the Lineups (take one) - by Colin regarding the likely lineups to be used by Torre and Piniella.
Playoff Roster Set - by Colin, who reports that everybody's favorite Hoff just couldn't power his way onto the post season roster.
Projecting the First Round Pitchers (part one) - by Colin, who notes that, although all of the factors have yet to be considered, Derek Lowe should have a slightly lower ERA than Ryan Dempster in this series.
I've Got Nothin' - by Byron, who has yet to chime in on what is to come. (Byron is the busiest Rider, seconded by Jason.)
Very Superstitious - by Kyle, who reports that if he accidentally says the Cubs will win the World Series, he must immediately walk outside, turn in three circles, and spit.
And none of that even counts the various things on the reader blog.
In other words, we are clearly worked up about this series and have been feeding you a lot of content. I'm sure it will continue, even if the Cubs fall off a cliff and we end up wallowing in a pit of misery/despair/agony. But I don't think that's going to happen, and let's take a look at the reasons why:
The Pitching Matchups:
Ryan Dempster vs. Derek Lowe: Both are effective pitchers who have done admirably well this year. Lowe has pitched insanely well, especially since the start of September, although his epic numbers come against such winners as the D-Backs, Padres, Pirates, and Giants (twice). Dempster is pitching at home, where he's won 14 games, in front of a crowd that will be brimming with energy, with an offense behind him that has set the league on fire. He's also the right kind of idiot to start Game One - he won't break under the pressure. Advantage Cubs.
Carlos Zambrano vs. Chad Billingsly: So far this season, The Big Moose has scared, awed, and scared us some more. But here's the thing - Carlos was born for this kind of situation. Contrary to his reputation, he's pitched well in big games, and he easily kept the 'backs at bay last October. While his arm is a concern, some would argue that he's pitched poorly due to the sudden death of his grandmother in September. If Carlos is doubly inspired to win it for the Gipper*, then the Dodgers are screwed. Billingsly, meanwhile, has pitched well this year but isn't much better than average on the road. Plus he's already eaten a loss at Wrigley this year. Advantage: Carlos ... er, Cubs.
Rich Harden vs. Hiroki Kuroda: Harden has been giving up too many walks in his most recent starts, but he's still not given up a lot of runs. He's the kind of pitcher who's good enough to walk 10 guys in a game but surrender only a few hits, resulting in low scores by his opponent. Non Cub fans are banking on Harden's shoulder exploding - hell, maybe it'll happen sometime, but I don't think it'll occur in Game 3. Kuroda has put up decent ERA numbers, but he doesn't throw a lot of innings and it's been reported that he is still depressed that Hiro and Ando have become parodies of themselves. But even if he was at the top of his game, he'd struggle to outduel an average Harden performance. Advantage: Cubs.
Ted Lilly vs. Greg Maddux (or, if desperate, Lowe on short rest): Ted Lilly is much, much better than his 4.09 ERA suggests. He is without a doubt the best Game 4 pitcher in baseball. Greg Maddux is an oldie, is sometimes a goodie, but even if he was on my team he wouldn't be my fifth choice to start a playoff game at this stage in his career. Advantage: Cubs.
Closer vs. Closer: Cubs closer Kerry Wood has displayed a tendency to allow runners on before buckling down and beating his opponents. Consequently, he finished the year with 34 saves in 40 tries. More importantly, he's only blown 1 save since July 9th, and is 10 for his last 11. The Dodgers closer will probably be Jon Broxton who has 8 blown saves in 22 tries, including 3 in his last 12. He was hands-down dominating in September, but in spite of his numbers I wouldn`t trust him in a close playoff game. Advantage: Cubs.
The Rest of the Pen: The Dodgers have a number of 8th inning options and, all together, they are stronger here than the Cubs. However, Chicago has 2 options and 2 options only for the 7th and 8th innings - Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija, and that`s really all they need. Behind them is Sean Marshall, who has an ERA below 3 as a reliever this year. I will fairly give the advantage to the Dodgers, but despite Cotts and Howry lingering in the pen, it's not as much an advantage as some might say it is. Advantage: Dodgers.
The Starting Lineup:
C: Geovany Soto vs. Russell Martin. Martin's not a bad catcher, but he's not getting MVP consideration as a rookie. 'nuff said. Advantage: Cubs.
1B: Derrek Lee vs. James Loney. Lee is a shell of his former self. He hit into a ridiculous 27 double plays in 623 at bats this year. But, uh, Loney hit into 25 in 595 at bats. Loney's a good player, but he can't do what Lee can do, and Lee's one major weakness is shared by Loney. Advantage: Cubs.
2B: Mike Fontenot/Mark DeRosa vs. Blake DeWitt/Jeff Kent. DeRosa may very well be one of the reasons the Cubs win this thing. His versatility and ability to hit the ball cannot be under-weighed. Fontenot has had a breakout year in a part-time role. He's had some huge, clutch hits. Blake DeWitt wouldn't crack the starting lineup on the Cubs, and Jeff Kent has begun to show his age this season. Advantage: Cubs.
3B: Aramis Ramirez vs. Casey Blake: Hmm. Clutch player with epic homerun power vs. journeyman who's struggled to hit NL pitching? Let me think about this.... Advantage: Cubs.
SS: Ryan Theriot vs. Raffy Furcal: Theriot is a .300 hitter with good plate discipline and limited range at short. Raffy Furcal has hit the ball exceptionally well when healthy this year, but since he came back from his season-long injury on September 24th, he's batting a meager .222. If I was convinced of his health, I'd vote Furcal. But until he lights it up for a while, it's Advantage: Cubs.
LF: Alfonso Soriano vs. Manny Ramirez: It's actually hard to say who's been more important to their respected teams. The Cubs are barely better than .500 in games without the Fonz. The Dodgers don't have a horse in this race without Manny. Defensively, both players scare their respected team's fans, but the Fonz has a cannon arm. In 552 at bats, Ramirez hit 37 homeruns and drove in 121. If he'd had 552 at bats, Soriano would've hit 35 homeruns and driven in 92. I actually think I'd rather have the Fonz, but for the sake of those who would accuse me of bias: Advantage: Dodgers.
CF: Jim Edmonds/Reed Johnson vs. Matt Kemp: I know dick about Matt Kemp, but I can say this: he's better defensively than Edmonds. He'd have to be Jose Canseco to be worse. He's also a solid hitter with good - but not fantastic - overall numbers. The Cubs would not be where they are today without Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson. Edmonds has more homeruns than Kemp in half the playtime, and Reed has better facial hair and a higher batting average. Advantage: Cubs.
RF: Kosuke Fukudome/Reed Johnson/Mark DeRosa vs. Andre Ethier: The Cubs might play a trio of guys out in right for this series. Defensively, you won't find a better guy than Fukudome who, by the way, is batting .25 points higher vs. lefties but hit all his homeruns against righties. If Fooky can't cut it offensively, then Reed and DeRo both have the gib to do the job. Eithier, meanwhile, may be the second best bat in the Dodgers lineup - and he hit 20 homeruns this year. Based on the versatility and the matchup scenarios, it's Advantage: Cubs.
Bench: The Cubs reportedly have a weak bench, but I really don't see it. On any given game, bench stars may include either Reed Johnson or Jim Edmonds, Felix Pie (batting .300 since his September callup), Mike Fontenot or Kosuke Fukudome (both can hit, even if Fooky hasn't shown it in a ... well, a long while), and even Henry Blanco and Ronny Cedeno can hit the ball better than most guys in their roles. Not to mention the Cubs have one pinch hitter who's batting .337 on the season and has more homeruns than 4 guys who will likely be on LA's bench: Carlos Zambrano. Advantage: Cubs.
So, let's look at this objectively: It' Cubs 13, Dodgers 2. Oh, and while the Cubs have that whole "burden of history" crap on their shoulders, the Dodgers have a long drought as well coupled with a frustrated fan base. They're playing with pressure, too. The Cubs could - and perhaps should - easily sweep. I think the Dodgers will win 1 in LA. But the strength of pitching and the superior offense of the Cubs will be too much for LA - or any team - to overcome. So, if you wanted an official Goat Riders prediction ...
Cubs win, folks. Get ready to be hung over, it's going to be a fun weekend.
P.S. I'm still planning to gamecast tonight, although I haven't bothered to tell my fiancee about those plans (can't wait to see how much she's looking forward to be neglected for a computer). I'll try to update after every score and half inning. I hope some of you will join me. Go Cubs.