Series Preview: Cubs at Milwaukee
Say hello to the first series of the season with real playoff implications. Earlier today, I laid out a few what-if scenarios in which I said the following: If the Cubs can win 3 of 4 on the road against the Brewers, then we can effectively declare Milwaukee dead in the water and a non-factor in the central.
In case you misunderstood, I was being just a tid-bit facetious there. Point of fact, I was making a mockery of Cub fans everywhere. You just know that, the self-defeatists that we are, if the Cubs sweep the Brewers we would be wiping the sweat from our brows, muttering phew, dodged a bullet. There would be relief, but it would only be temporary. We'd be waiting for the Cubs to take their next hit on the chin. You also just know that if the Brewers swept the Cubs, these same fans would be proclaiming that in late July, with the Cubs 3 games out of 1st place, the season would be over. Now, the last time I pointed out this self-defeatist attitude, an otherwise-loyal reader took me to task. Hey, I'm just asking - asking, not demanding - for some perspective here. The season doesn't end until the Cubs either clinch or are mathematically eliminated. Until then, it's just a whole lot of bang and clatter, folks. That said, let's take a look at this playoff-like atmosphere:
Monday, July 28th Ted Lilly (10-6, 4.49 ERA) vs. C.C. Sabathia (10-8, 3.30 ERA)
You know, this entire series so strongly resembles what it would be like should these teams meet in the playoffs that it makes my head spin a little. The match-ups are slightly off, though. Lilly would probably match up with Bush, and Harden would duel with Sabathia. Then again, if I'm the skipper, I might just fly in the face of conventional wisdom and match 'em up just like it is here. After all, Lilly is a good pitcher, albiet not a great one, but more to the point, Sabathia is a world breaker at this stage. I submit to you that if I'm the skipper, I basically say "alright, we'll give you Sabathia's start as a likely win for you, but we're lining things up so we're practically sure to win when Harden pitches."
In other words, you never know. The Cubs just might score 3 runs against Sabathia. Lilly and the bullpen just might hold the Brewers to 2. And if the Cubs win this match-up, then they are almost certain to win when Harden faces the worst starter in this series. Therefore, I'd trade a possible thing for a nearly certain thing, if that makes any sense.
No? Well, it makes sense to me.
Besides, as Cleveland Cub pointed out, Sabathia has done reaaaaaaaaal bad in the playoffs. If this is truly at all like a playoff series tonight, he's gonna choke.
Tuesday, July 29th Carlos Zambrano (11-4, 2.96 ERA) vs. Ben Sheets (10-3, 2.87 ERA)
Another huge match-up. Carlos would likely face Sheets in the playoffs. Both are aces, both can shut down an offense, but Sheets has the luxury of pitching at home in this series. However, Carlos is now known for rising to the occasion, and if Milwaukee beats the Cubs tomorrow night, I have a feeling that it's going to be by a combined score of 4 or fewer runs.
Wednesday, July 30th Ryan Dempster (11-4, 2.99 ERA) vs. Manny Parra (9-3, 3.72 ERA)
And here's where Milwaukee starts ever-so-slightly to come unglued. Parra has been a good pitcher, don't get me wrong. But the rookie starter doesn't match-up to the Cubs Third Ace, Ryan Dempster. While Parra is certainly a good pitcher at home, the Cubs' pitching depth really plays to their advantage in this match-up.
Thursday, July 31st Rich Harden (5-2, 2.10 ERA) vs. Dave Bush (5-8, 4.51 ERA)
And, at last, the closest we have to the "sure thing." Don't get me wrong, folks, the Brewers are a tough and scary team. They have a great shot at making the playoffs this year. However, while they have as potent a 1-2 combo of aces as any team in baseball, they fall apart toward the bottom half of their rotation, they are relying on a journeyman closer, and they otherwise have a grand total of two relievers who you can count on in a game - one a 39-year-old lefty, the other a 27-year-old rookie who entirely lacks in experience.
For all those reasons, I have to suggest that Milwaukee is a paper tiger, or a glass dragon, or whatever the hell else you'd like to call them. They're short. They're shallow. They have no depth. The Cubs are going to kill these guys.
I will grant you this, and only because I am trying to cover my bases, this series is no sure thing for the Cubs. Offensively, they've been slumping and they are now about to face three of the most dangerous pitchers that they'll see for a while. So, while anything could happen in the next four games, I have to say that for the next two months, I really like the Cubs' chances.
Manlove for Smorgasbord
Before I leave you to watch a great game, I thought I'd contribute a few thoughts to the new Cub Savior, Jeff Smardzija. This guy has only pitched in 2 games - one of which he blew a save which eventually cost the Cubs the game. He's got a reputation for walking too many hitters. He's really not done well at any level he's pitched at. And yet, we love the guy already. Why is that?
In part, it's because he's got talent. He can viciously mix speeds. He strikes guys out. He's tall. Some feel that he's underperformed in the minors due in part to boredom. He has an air about him, like he belongs at the Majors, and if he can continue to pitch as he has been, then the Cubs just might have a new set-up man to compliment Marmol - if they don't have a new #5 pitcher to replace Marquis.
Regardless, at Jason's suggestion, I have crafted the following photoshop depicting just how Lou Piniella feels about the guy. Enjoy.