Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Series Preview: Reds at Chicago

In the excitement, I almost forgot that baseball is being played tonight.   As it is thundering in Toronto tonight, we'll keep this short in order to ensure that nothing is lost to a power outage.

The first place Chicago Cubs who have the best record in the National League and just acquired the best starting pitcher available on the market for the proverbial bag of magic beans and half-bottle of rum will be hosting the Reds for three at Wrigley.  Phew, long sentence.

The dominant-at-home Cubs are trotting out their three best starters - besides newly acquired Dick Harden* - against the lowly Reds.  But, while we are certain that you want to know more about the series, we also know one of the big questions you've been asking that has yet to be answered.  So.  The answer is: Harden will be ready to pitch on July 11th in San Francisco against ex Athletic Barry Zito, and he will be replacing Sean "Trade Bait For Even More Improvements" Marshall on that day in the rotation.

(*In case you hadn't heard that they acquired him, and yes, until further notice he will be known as Dick Harden on this blog)

All that said, let's take a look at this series.

The Pitching Match-ups:

Tuesday, July 8th Ryan Dempster vs. Aaron Harang

Dempster and Harang are following opposite paths this season.  Clownsevelt is 9-3 with an ERA of 3.24.  Harang is 3-10 with an ERA of 4.47.  Furthermore, since Harang's unfortunate relief appearance on the 25th of May, he's completely and shockingly - that's sarcasm - tanked.  He's gone 1-4 in 7 starts with an ERA of 6.75.  

Dempster, meanwhile, is a tough guy to face at home.  He owes all 9 wins this season to the Wrigley faithful, and I'm sure he's chomping at the bit to pick up win number 10 before the break.

Wednesday, July 9th Carlos Zambrano vs. Johnny Cueto

The Big Moose is back and healthy after a shoulder scare that sent the Cub fan nation into a tizzy.  Zambrano had an all-out dominating performance against the Cardinals.  I'd expect him to remain on a pitch count tomorrow night, perhaps of around 150 or 160 pitches in order to ensure that his shoulder receives the proper rest and attention.

Johnny Cueto is 22 and a potential stud - should Dusty Baker not ruin his golden arm.  That said, he's 22 and still figuring out the major leagues in this, his rookie season.  While a 7-8 record with a 4.63 ERA is nothing to be ashamed of, Cueto will be facing the most dangerous offense in the NL tomorrow night, and hopefully the Cubs will take him for a ride that he is unlikely to forget for a long, long time.

Thursday, July 10th Ted Lilly vs. Bronson Arroyo

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly has been a vastly improved pitcher since his ridiculous 1-4 start to the season.  The Cubs only lost his last game because of a now-rare blown save, and if we were to pretend that his first four starts had never happened, he would be 9-2 right now with an ERA of around 3.50.   

Bronson Arroyo, meanwhile, is 6-7 with a 5.82 ERA and was considered a trade possibility for the Cubs before Jim Hendry caught Billy Beane at a moment of weakness, after the A's GM had apparently downed half a bottle of scotch.  I'm sure the Cubs are both happy to have not acquired Bronson, who even at the best of times looks more constipated out there on the mounds than Tom Hanks does in his daily living, because they not only do not have to rely on him to win every 5th day, but they also get to take cracks at him on Thursday.

Predictions: Epic trades don't always instantly mean that a team will become super-charged and will suddenly start winning 70% of their games.  However, Harden and Gaudin should give the Cubs a tremendous lift.  And while Dick Harden may only equate statistically to around 2 or 3 wins over the course of a season - I reckon he'll probably have a similar impact as Sabathia in Milwaukee - what he specifically brings to the table is another strong and steady arm in the playoffs, while Gaudin may, in theory, help ease the load off of Marmol and Howry.

The Cubs appear to be heading in the right direction.  And while Colin wisely pointed out that the Cubs 5th best starter will be in the bullpen cursing as Jason Marquis takes his turn in the rotation, the Cubs now have to be the definitive favorites to win the NL Central - if not the entire league itself.

However, I cannot help but leave you with one negative, contrary thought.  After the trade went down and many Cub fans were going nuts about Harden donning a Cubs uniform, occasional GROTA guest writer Cubbiebluestew pointed out, "But this is Billy Beane.  I am going to check the Dead Pool to see if Harden passed away last night."   Nothing is certain, and that certainly includes the health of Dick Harden.  Yet I still can't help but feel that this was a great trade.  I anticipate that the Cubs will celebrate by blowing out the Reds tonight, although the score is 0-0 as I publish this post.  Then again, it's only the 2nd inning.  The runs will come.

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