Series Preview: Cubs vs. Astros
As I write this, the Cubs are trailing 1-0. Jason Marquis has done well, but clearly not well enough, and the Cubs are being 1-hit by Roy Oswalt. Oops, make that 2-nil, but at least the Mets are beating the Brewers.
Anyway. It is now September. The Brewers play an easy schedule this month and will aim to continue their surge against the Cubs. The Cubs, meanwhile, are a good month away from their first 100-win season since FDR was President. However, in order to do that they will need to kick off this month by playing a team that would be playoff bound if only they were in the NL West. I'm talking about the Houston Astros, the definitive example of why the NL Central is the hardest division in baseball this year.
At 71-66, the Astros are 14 games out of 1st place and 10 games out of the Wild Card. Their job this month will be to play spoiler. They take on the Cubs 6 times this month. Let's take a look at the specific match-ups:
Monday, September 1 - Jason Marquis (9-7, 4.46 ERA) vs. Roy Oswalt (12-9, 4.06 ERA)
Jason Marquis is trying for his 10th win of the season, but he's doing it against Astros ace Roy Oswalt. Now, I know that there isn't a Cub fan out there who'd feel the slightest bit of good if the Cubs lose their 3rd straight today, but let's just try to keep some perspective. Jason Marquis is pitching.
Roy Oswalt is having a respectable year, but the Cubs should really be scoring more runs against him than they are. Maybe they'll crank it up a notch in the middle innings, but I always get a little uncomfortable when they look offensively ... well, average. Lately, that's all they've been, if not sub-par.
Tuesday, September 2 - Carlos Zambrano (13-5, 3.53 ERA) vs. Brandon Backe (9-12, 5.42 ERA)
Carlos Zambrano hates Augusts the way some of us hate Mondays. He's been having a rough go of it as of late, but let us not forget that he would pitch with a knife sticking out of his right forearm, and he'd probably pitch well. He may be having some weird arm issues this year, but I am confident that the Moose will rediscover his groove sometime before the end of the month. Maybe it'll be tomorrow.
If Carlos is going to struggle, though, he drew the big straw in his pitching opponent, Brandon Backe. Maybe Lou did it intentionally - saving Carlos for a game where he can probably afford to cough up a few runs in the 4th or 5th, as the Cubs offense should feast on Backe.
Wednesday, September 3 - Ryan Dempster (15-5, 2.95 ERA) vs. Randy Wolf (8-11, 4.73 ERA)
Ryan Dempster has, from the purely statistical perspective, become the team ace this season. He has pitched effectively from the first game to the last, and he seems very capable of reaching 18 on the season. His opponent on Wednesday will be Randy Wolf, one of several Astros pitcher who make Jason Marquis look like a blessing. It's really quite surprising that Houston has managed to win 71 games this season when you consider the tools they've been working with.
Predictions: The best thing about the Cubs: it`s really not over for them until the final out. They are presently being one-hit by Oswalt, but sooner or later the bats will come out and runs will be scored.
As I said earlier, nobody wants to see the Cubs extend their current little losing streak. The Astros are a tough team, but the Cubs are a better one and they could and should take this series. Being realistic, if the Cubs do lose a game, it will be today`s, but there`s no reason for that to happen. Chicago could and should put up some runs against Oswalt and the Astros bullpen.
In the meantime, the Mets beat the Brewers today. No ground will be gained. Let`s hope that the Cubs are watching the scoreboard and that they understand how beneficial it will be to explode for a 7-spot in the 6th inning. And they may need that many, because Jason Marquis is having his 5th Inning Self Destruct as this is written.
Hey Jason, relax. You`ve got another year on your deal, you`re not going to make the post season roster no matter what you do, and the Cubs can`t miss the playoffs because you suck. With the pressure off your back, just go out there, throw some strikes, and let the magic happen. Sound like a plan?