Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at Houston Astros
Overview: Jason wanted me to let you, the loyal Goat Rider Army, that he is sincerely sorry that he hasn't been able to contribute as of late. Unfortunately for him, he has been engrossed in a long-running, drawn-out battle royale against an entity of great destruction otherwise known as Real Life. Sucks.
But maybe it's good for the Cubs. While Jason is busy makin' money, baby, the Cubs are giving us something that we are not used to watching - an entertaining team of players easy to support who happen to win more often than they lose. I know, it's crazy. We may no longer live under the shadow of the great Dusty Baker, but it's easy to remember a time when the opposite was true. Even the 2004 Cubs - perhaps the best assembled Chicago team in my lifetime to never reach the playoffs - was built on the backs of douchebags who gave Cub fans a steady stream of reasons to hate.
These Cubs, meanwhile, are pretty good, and they seem to consist of really nice guys. Even the guys who are theoretically not team players - Soriano - are nice, and well-liked by their teammates. A rare change of pace. (Actually, I hear that Fukudome does nothing but talk about the money he spends and the bitches he nails, all while bad-mouthing the organization at every turn, but thankfully he does it in Japanese so nobody understands nor cares.)
Anyway. Our Baby Bears are on a rampage. The good news isn't that they've been winning. The good news is that they've been winning against good, hot teams. It may come as no surprise that the Cubs beat Pittsburgh, although they have been damned good - well, damned decent, anyway - as of late. Not to mention their easy dominance of the Padres and that recent sweep of the Diamondbacks, who I get the feeling that we'll see in the playoffs come October.
The Cubs start another series against a team that should be mediocre, but has in fact put together a surprising string of wins. The 25-20 Astros have won 12 of their last 16 games, not bad for a team that was once 6 games under .500. But do they have the testicular fortitude to finish the year as strongly as they've been playing this month?
Meh, I dunno, will Lance Berkman continue to think he's Batman? Anyway. On to the match-ups.
The pitching match-ups: Based on my findings at the inconsistently accurate ESPN, it's going to look like this:
Monday, May 19th: Ted Lilly vs. Brian 'Da Mauler' Moehler
Ted Lilly, ah, how I remember your atrocious beginnings back in April. I remember the look of cool frustration on your face, an expression you wore as the month dragged on. Then, you probably killed somebody. Folks, did we mention to you that Lilly has the air of a serial killer? Did we even have to mention it? Just look at the guy; you know he has a bloody chainsaw and some rusty shackles in the trunk of his BMW.
But what about Brian Moehler, you ask? Apart from having the coolest nickname ever, Moehler hasn't been a regular starter since 2006. And even back then, he sucked. This year, he's been converted to the rotation after 5 go-rounds in the bullpen. As a starter, he's responded by putting up some pretty nod-worthy numbers - a 1-0 record, 2.70 ERA, and 7 k's and 1 walk in 10 innings pitched. In other words, Moehler is bound to come spiralling back to earth, and he's only capable at this point of throwing about 80 pitches a start. Maybe the Astros will stretch his arm a little more this time around, but don't be shocked if the Cubs get at it with him, chase him in the 4th, and then battle it out with the Houston bullpen.
Tuesday, May 20th: Ryan Clownsevelt Dempster vs. Chris Sampson
Please forgive me for nicknaming Dempster "Clownsevelt." It's just that Lilly's middle name is "Roosevelt," and I like how it sounds. Maybe I'll start calling Carlos Zambrano "Moosevelt," Sean Gallagher "Irishevelt," and Jason Marquis "Sucksevelt." ...well, maybe I'll come up with something better for Gallagher. Anyway, Dempster has far exceeded anybody's expectations so far. I mean, he's putting up All Star numbers. He's consistant, he's winning, he's not walking too many players, it's bound to end. (Did I just say that?) I'm just saying that maybe Dempster is an adequate starting pitcher, but he's not Greg Maddux In His Prime adequate. Sooner or later, he's going to return to the mean. Hopefully, it'll be later, though ... like, in August, after the Cubs have it locked up.
Chris Sampson is a 29-year-old starter with a career ERA of 4.53. This year, after 8 starts, he's been getting his arse kicked. He's 2-3 with a 6.46 ERA - in other words, the Cubs could trot Marquis out there and have a better than 50-50 chance of winning. However, in the spirit of following Jason's tradition of talking up the opposing team in order to placate the Jinx Gods (who I don't actually believe in), Sampson is a pitcher with rough stuff who, on any given night, can shut down the opposition. In fact, I hear that he's so good, after he dominates a team he often meets the entire opposing squad in the parking lot after games where he battles them in one-on-three contests until he is the last man standing. Dude's tough. Super tough.
Wednesday, May 21st: Sean "Boondock Saint" Gallagher vs. Shawn "Boongoggle Taint" Chacon
And, before you ask, no, I don't know what "Boongoggle Taint" means. I was going for silly. Sean Gallagher is unlikely to be to the 2008 Cubs what Kerry Wood was to the '98 variety. But, then again, unlike the '98 Cubs, this year's team might not need it. However, I remain a huge, huge Gallagher mark. He's a good player who's put up great numbers at every level, and while I'm not expecting him to duplicate the Kerry Wood performance of Mid May 1998, it would be nice if this start against Houston was a breakout performance for the guy. I think that with a little more seasoning, Gallagher is more than capable of giving six or seven solid innings on a regular basis, and he easily could rack up the K's, just as he's done in the minors.
Shawn Chacon has a pretty storied career for being only 30 years old. He's experienced the highs of winning in Colorado, and the lows of sucking in New York City. He's taken that suck across the country, to venues such as Pittsburgh and now Houston, where he is taking the step above Suck and settling for Simply Mediocre. After 9 starts, Chacon is yet to record a decision. That's bound to change. Perhaps on Wednesday?
Predictions: The last time I included a predictions segment on a series preview, I said the Cubs would sweep. They proceeded to get their asses handed to them. But, as I've said before, I do now bow down to the jinx gods. But I'm also not stupid enough to predict a sweep again. Instead, I'll just say that, despite Houston's hot play as of late, the Cubs are a superior team on almost every level. It will be tough even for the Surging 'Stros to outplay a team as good as the Cubs.
..."a team as good as the Cubs." Huh. Feels weird saying that.