NLDS Series Preview: Cubs scouting report
Jason has already done this, but I wanted to look even further in depth at the upcoming roster for the NLDS against the Dodgers. But before I get too deep into it, let's address something...
The general consensus that I've seen in the past few days has been fear mixed with panic. Now that the playoffs are here, everybody is nervous for the Cubs. Some people are particularly disturbed by the first round opponent - the "D" in Dodgers stands for "dangerous," and the potent combo of ex Red Sox Lowe and Ramirez have some Cub fans quivering in their boots. Don't get me wrong, I'm nervous too, although I think most of my anxiety is for it to start. The two days is killing me. But, while the Mets were perhaps more vulnerable than the Dodgers due to their numerous injuries, let's keep in mind the following points:
- The Cubs beat the Dodgers in the season series
- The Dodgers are entering the playoffs with 14 more losses than the Cubs, and that's in a division drastically weaker than the NL Central
- If the Cubs can't beat the 84-win Dodgers, then they don't deserve to get to the World Series, and, lastly ...
- How do you think Dodger fans are feeling about meeting the Cubs right now? If you thought you were nervous, you should see what they are saying.
Anyway. There remains some degree of speculation as to what the playoff roster will consist of. Lou apparently met with Hendry earlier today, but nothing has been announced since that point. However, there are certainly some likely candidates, and I will attempt to clinically and fairly evaluate the Cubs post season talent.
Ryan Dempster - The Game One starter. Strengths: Gives home field advantage a new meaning, having gone 14-3 in the friendly confines this season. Confident about his stuff. Primarily throws fastballs, and his key secondary pitch is the slider. Knows how to perform magic tricks. Weaknesses: throws a few too many balls, although it didn't effect him in the regular season when he walked 76 in 206.2 innings. Melts like a hot tub of butter with a runner on third (teams are batting .333 against him in that scenario). Still banned from Vegas due to That Incident With the Hooker.
Carlos Zambrano - Game Two starter. Strengths: Undeniable no-hit stuff. Is a fierce competitor who would pitch with a knife in his shoulder if he had to. Carries within him a rage as hot as a fiery inferno. Swings that bat better than perhaps any pitcher in baseball. Weaknesses: Inconstancy. Despite throwing a no-hitter earlier this month, Carlos has a 7.08 ERA in September and a 5.80 ERA since the All Star Break. Is primarily a fastball pitcher, and has had trouble locating pitches and maintaining velocity in the past 2 months.
Rich Harden - Game Three starter. Strengths: Dominating stuff. Teams are batting .183 off of Harden this year. Great strikeout ability, has 181 k's in 148 innings of work. Perhaps the best #3 starter on any team in the playoffs this season - and that's even if Josh Beckett pitches Game 3 for the Red Sox. Weaknesses: Arm issues. Has missed time throughout the season and in past seasons due to problems with his delivery. If he has reached his expiration date for the '08 season, it may be problematic for the Cubs.
Ted Lilly - Game Four starter. Strengths: Mentally tough. Capable of being a slump-buster (not in the Mark Grace sense). Can dominate a game. Keeps the body parts of gutted opponents in a freezer in his basement. Weaknesses: Currently under investigation by the FBI for the mysterious Green Creek murders. Occasionally gets pummeled by opponents. Has only thrown 200 or more innings twice in his career; this year and the last.
Kerry Wood - closer. Strengths: Dominating strikeout stuff. Has developed a closer's mentality during the season. Weaknesses: Developed a case of Rod Beckitis during the month of September. Has a September ERA of 7.45, but his post All Star Break ERA is 3.02. Scares the crap out of me when he lets runners on in close situations.
Carlos Marmol - set-up man. Strengths: Unbelievably dominating stuff. After having one of the ugliest month-long-spans in recent memory, buckled down and allowed only 5 earned runs in 34 innings of work after the All Star Break. Weaknesses: Unproven in the post season. While dominating, has completely fallen off in the past. Looks like the dramatic gopher when he prepares to go into his delivery. Big ears.
Jeff Smardzija - 7th inning man. Strengths: Good stuff. Able to strike out tall batters in a single bound. Has played in Big Game Situations in the past as a TE for Notre Dame. Weaknesses: A rookie. May be used to big games, but probably is not used to being in a position to determine complete success or failure. Sometimes suffers from a lack of control.
Sean Marshall - 1st Lefty Specialist. Strengths: Reliable. Has a 2.81 ERA as a reliever. Weaknesses: Not really good against left handed hitters. Righties are batting .229 against Marshall, lefties are batting .273.
Neal Cotts - 2nd Lefty Specialist. Strengths: Is left handed. Weaknesses: Totally unreliable. Lefties are hitting as well against him as righties (.269/.263). Under the delusion that he may somehow win World Series MVP. Used to pitch for the White Sox.
Bob Howry - Long Inning Specialist. Strengths: ... Weaknesses: Human gas can. Has given up 12 homeruns - as a relief pitcher. Post All Star ERA of 6.47. Incapable of producing real tears of emotion.
Jason Marquis - other Long Inning Specialist. Strengths: Easy to make fun of due to his last name. Capable of eating up innings in case of route. Shockingly may be one of the best #5 pitchers in baseball. Weaknesses: Ultimately not worth the money he's being paid. Unreliable in clutch situations. Not used to pitching in relief.
The Starting Lineup:
Geovany Soto - Catcher. Strengths: Calls a great game. Hits the ball well. Shows good plate discipline, especially for a rookie. Can hit the ball a mile. Weaknesses: Sore hand may limit playing time. Looks like a glam-rock star.
Derrek Lee - First Base. Strengths: Solid defensive first baseman. Good overall offensive game. Still able to steal an occasional base. Weaknesses: Hit into an absurd number of double plays this season - is it a fluke, or is it him? Loss of power in the second half. Sometimes grows a very scruffy beard which, according to my fiancee, detracts from his hotness.
Mike Fontenot - Second Base. Strengths: Has taken a surprisingly solid approach to hitting this year. High SWP Factor (Scrappy White Player). Is batting .323 with runners in scoring position. Weaknesses: All the heart in the world won't make up for limited range defensively. Is short enough to play a hobbit.
Aramis Ramirez - Third Base. Strengths: If you Google "Aramis Ramirez clutch homerun" and look through the images, while there may be many pictures few will be duplicates. (That's a long-winded way of saying Moy Clutch.) Best Cubs third baseman since Ron Santo. Defensively better than his reputation suggests. Weaknesses: Looks like Charles Barkley. Supports cock fighting, which means that an animal lover will bean him sooner or later. Can go into abysmal slumps that never seem to end.
Ryan Theriot - Short Stop. Strengths: Good singles hitter. Gets on base often (.387 OBP this year). High SWP Factor. Is a .368 hitter in the leadoff spot. Weaknesses: Lacks in slugging. Gets caught stealing waaaay too often. Defensively inadequate (just ask Colin). Cries when eating spicy Cajun food.
Alfonso Soriano - Left Field. Strengths: Phenomenal hitter. Cannon-arm in left field. A game-changer with his bat. Is loved by the ladies. Weaknesses: Defensively shaky. Has suffered a series of leg injuries the last couple of years. Probably not the most ideal leadoff hitter, but is perceived as being psychologically fragile.
Jim Edmonds - Center Field. Strengths: Donates large sums to animal shelters. Still capable of making big plays defensively. A still-surprisingly good power hitter. Bad mouths the Cardinals organization. Weaknesses: Old and infirm. Used to play for the Cardinals. Started out well with the Cubs, but has slowed down since the All Star Break, batting only .232 but with 10 homers. Has ulterior motives for his support of animal shelters.
Mark DeRosa - Right Field. Strengths: Versatile; can play multiple positions. Disciplined at the plate, and has shown the ability to hit epic homeruns. Because of his last name, allows for wordplay involving the word "Hero" - aka "DeRo is my Hero." Weaknesses: A jack of many trades, a master of none, DeRosa won't be winning a Gold Glove any time soon. May be playing hurt. Is very streaky - either rips the cover off of the baseball, or misses it all together.
The Bench -
Henry Blanco - Catcher. Strengths: A legend in Venezuela. Capable of intimidating even Carlos Zambrano. Prison tats = intimidating. Has a .292 AVG off the bench. Weaknesses - May or may not be playing with an artificial spine. Looks as though he has a bit of a mullet.
Darryle Ward - First base/outfield. Strengths: Capable of using his large butt as a flotation device. Has long experience as a successful pinch hitter. Hit a walk-off homerun against the Marlins. Weaknesses: Probably should have retired already. Inconsistent offensively this year. Hasn't done a whole lot with the bat.
Ronny Cedeno - Middle Infield. Strengths: Versatile; able to play two key positions. Weaknesses: Unreliable in big moments - think Alex Gonzalez in Game Six. Should be nowhere near a clutch situation while holding a baseball bat, regardless of early bases-loaded success. When he enters a game along with Bob Howry, causes great fear in the hearts of Cub fans everywhere.
Reed Johnson - Outfield. Strengths: Full SWP Factor. Solid batting average - .303 on the season. Can play all outfield positions. Batting .364 with runners on, and .556 (5 for 9) with the bases loaded. Weaknesses: Poor choice in facial hair.
Kosuke Fukudome - Outfield. Strengths: Can curse on television in Japanese and get away with it. Great plate discipline. Actually understands what Hiro and Ando say. Outstanding glove in both right and center field. Weaknesses: Outside fastballs, 'nuff said. Has lost all consistency as a hitter.
Felix Pie/Micah Hoffpauir - Outfield. (One of these guys will make the squad, but which one?) Strengths: Pie: good defensive skills, speedy, loves to win. Hoff: Epic power-hitting skills*, solid pinch hitter. Weaknesses: Pie: unable to deliver offensively so far in 260 career at bats (although he's batting .300 since he was called up in Sept). Hoff: not really an outfielder at all, but forced to play there because he'll never replace Derrek Lee at first base.
(*Against Pedro Martinez only)
Overall - A solid team. The Dodgers apparently have a better bench than the Cubs, but I fail to see how. The Cubs bench, Ward excepted, appears to be defensively reliable and even has the ability to deliver the occassional blow via the bat. Not to mention the Cubs have additionally talented pinch hitting help in guys like Carlos Zambrano, who hefts a mighty stick.
We'll take a closer look at the Dodgers tomorrow. I promise it'll be completely, totally unbiased. Really. ::snicker::