Pre-Recap Update - By this time tomorrow, hopefully, the Zambran-0-Meter 2009 edition will be up on the site along with an article loudly proclaiming my prediction of 110 wins and World Series dominance. So if you are superstitious and have a weak stomach, you might want to avoid GROTA for a while.
The Cubs leave Milwaukee with another series win, following another offensive explosion - this one of the less likely kind, a defensive gem, and a diaper-filling appearance by Kevin Gregg. Let's break it down:
Offense - For the first time that I can remember, the Cubs had more runs - all earned - than hits. It all happened thanks to the disintegration of Jeff Suppan in the 4th, when he hit one batter, walked a guy, surrendered a single, and then proceeded to walk the next 3 batters he faced. He was then yanked for Jorge Lugo who also walked home a run before escaping.
I'm sure that it's not too uncommon for a team to have more runs than hits - maybe even a lot more runs than hits like the Cubs, but it's still a pretty weird line. I'm sure that if Dusty was still managing the Cubs, he would've have frustratingly called for his hitters to be more aggressive after the first or second guy got walked home. Let's be happy that the Cubs are a much better disciplined team these days.
As for runs earned "legitimately," the Fonz selfishly led off the game with a homerun, Theriot doubled home Fontenot in the 5th, and Three Finger Hill doubled home Theriot in the 9th. Oh, and Derrek Lee sac-flied Joey Gathright in the 8th, giving him 2 RBI to go along with 0 hits. Go figure.
I had a small debate with AJ in the sbox about Lee. AJ noted that in a 1 out situation with a runner on 1st and 3rd, he'd rather see Hoffpauir at the plate than Lee because Derrek is far more likely to hit a ground ball. I disagree with that, though.
It's true that Lee hits more grounders - almost twice as many, on average - because high strikeout players will always be prone to hit fewer balls on the grass. But it's also true that, on average, Lee has been a good hitter who's batted .290 or better in most of his years with the Cubs, meaning that while he'll hit more ground balls he'll also be more likely to get ground ball hits. The double play stigma attached to Lee's reputation is an example of overthinking. GDP's tend to occur by chance more often than not, not because a hitter is "prone" or "declining." I'd be a little surprised if Derrek hit as many GDP's in '09, and if he is indeed a better hitter than Hoffpauir - and slow start notwithstanding, he is a better hitter than Hoffpauir - then I'd take the guy who's more inclined to actually get a hit every day over the guy who's bound for striking out big.
Incidentally, Milton Bradley came up lame running the bases in the 4th inning, which allowed for Reed Johnson to make an entrance that would be incredibly memorable, but more on that in a minute.
Bradley, incidentally, has a tight right groin ::shudders:: but is listed as day-to-day.
The Pitching - Ryan Dempster is escaping with mediocre stuff right now. In the first inning, he loaded the bases with one out and, despite tossing a wild pitch, escaped with one run allowed. In the third inning, he allowed 2 men on without permitting either to score. In the fourth he served up a solo homerun before striking out the next 3 batters. Then came the fifth inning. This one deserves it's own paragraph.
In the fifth inning, Dempster gave up singles to Ricky Weeks and Craig Counsell before hitting Ryan Braun to load the bases for the fat-but-dangerous Prince Fielder. Fielder then proceeded to crank a blast to deep right field, where Reed Johnson - fittingly subbing for the sore Bradley - made a running catch which robbed Fielder of a game-tying Grand Slam.
Desipio participant section242 said it best ... The Prince literally tipped his cap to Reed. When he did he revealed a half eaten donut under his hat.
It's very likely that had Soul Patch not been in the game, that ball would've been a goner. Let's call it a Serendipitous Injury and move on.
Amazingly enough, Dempster gave up only 2 runs that inning, escaped, and came back to pitch a scoreless 6th. Then, having decided to take the more conservative route, Lou actually picked - and used - one reliever per inning. Marshall pitched a scoreless 7th, Marmol pitched a dominating 8th, and Kevin Gregg stepped in and pitched a gut-wrenching, vomit-inducing 9th. Having gotten the first 2 outs of the inning with apparent ease, Gregg served up a homerun to Ricky Weeks, a double to Craig Counsell and a walk to Ryan Braun. Then, with Prince Fielder again up and ready to do some game-tying damage, Gregg managed to strike him out to end the inning.
I'm sure Lou had a few choice words for him after that. Odds are, Gregg isn't going to be immediately demoted to middle relief, but he's probably got about two weeks to right his ship. Then again, Piniella is older and crankier than me. It may only be 2 more appearances before the change is made.
After opening the series with a 1-run loss that should have been a win, the Cubs took the next two games and are now 4-2 on the year. Two road series victories to kick off the year is a good start. Now they just have to prove they can win at home again.
Current Record: 4-2
Position in the NL Central: half a game behind St. Louis for the lead
Best Possible Record: 160-2
Worst Possible Record: 4-158
On Pace For: 108-54
Admit it. Considering that the Cubs are supposedly a much, much better team than the Brewers, it concerns you that the first 2 games of this 3 game set have been determined by a single run, scored in the 9th innings of both contests. Aren't the Cubs supposed to be better than this? Shouldn't they be dominating the poor pitching of Milwaukee?
Well, it's a long season, buddy. Dempsters will sometimes play like Suppans. Suppans will sometimes play like Dempsters. Piniellas will make boneheaded pitching choices. Bakers will make moves that would impress savants.
Despite the closeness of the games, and regardless of how they're already a much better-on-paper team, it would actually be pretty impressive for the Cubs to win tonight. Why, you ask? Because the Cubs would then have won their first two serieses (seri?) of the year on the road. Road dominance is a tough task for any team, and the Cubs would be off to a good start with a win tonight.
Kosuke Fukudome! I'm pretty sure Our Rob predicted 8 homeruns this season for Fooky. If that's the case, then he's already 25% of the way there, having hit homer #2 last night in the 4th. Fukudome is now batting .421 on the season following his 2 RBI performance last evening.
Alfonso Soriano. A leadoff hitter he ain't. But he is a slugger, and he has been winning games with his bat early on this season. Last night was another example - the Fonz hit homerun #3, this time in the 9th inning. It was the cap to an evening of battling back, as the Cubs were down 2-0, then 3-1, then 5-3, before scoring 3 unanswered runs in the 8th and 9th innings.
Aramis. Clutchy McClutchison with the 8th inning bomb that put the Cubs within 1. Rammy is now batting .333 on the year.
Ryan Theriot. He's not exactly back in my good graces following the defensive miscues of the previous game, but Theriot is batting .563 on the year following another multi-hit game last night. He also stole his first base of the season.
The Cubs #3 and #4 hitters. The heart of the Cubs lineup has combined to go 3 for 38 this year. That's a .079 AVG in case you were wondering. It's pretty impressive, then, that Chicago is poised to exit Milwaukee tonight with a .667 winning percentage on the season. We're all wondering it, and I'll ask aloud ... how long before Lou drops Derrek to 6th (where he belongs) and puts the Cubs best slugger (Aramis Ramirez) in the 3-spot?
Neal Cotts. He's made 4 appearances, pitched 1.1 innings, surrendered 2 hits, walked 1, and hit 1. He's also just about completely lost the trust of Lou Piniella who's not even leaving him enough rope to hang himself with.
One thing is pretty obvious -- Lou is not pleased with his bullpen. Just look at the way he juggles them. The Cubs will either need to respond by giving him pitchers he trusts, or by forcing him to play with the hand he's been dealt. Maybe he should spend a few weeks doing the latter before Hendry resorts to the former?
Another night, another attempt to recover from a frustrating defeat. The Cubs offense failed to capitalize on the mediocre pitching they faced last night, but they've got a chance to make up for it now as they face a guy with a career record of 43-46 and ERA of 4.47.
So far in this short season, the offense has been very hit or very miss, averaging 7.5 runs when they win and 2.5 runs when they lose. But probably the most interesting story of tonight is a twin-billing, and both revolve around the team's most passionate characters.
Carlos Zambrano. Rugged. Mean. Off to a good start. Will he build on his momentum as he steams towards the best season of his career? Or will he falter and lose focus?
Lou Piniella. Feisty. Potentially going senile. Lou is the reason the Cubs have developed the so-called Cubbie Swagger these past few years. But while Lou has the right attitude and the track-record of success that the Cubs need to emulate, sometimes his decisions ... well, sometimes they scare the shit out of me. Take batting Alfonso Soriano leadoff, for example. Chances are the Fonz will finish the year with a good batting average, a respectable OBP, and damned near 40 homeruns. No matter how loudly some dopes gripe about him, the Cubs can absolutely win with him playing leadoff. They've done it two years running. But while maybe Soriano batting leadoff isn't enough of a flaw to affect a team's success from games 1 through 162, is he really the player we want batting leadoff in any playoff game ever? Just asking.
The other Piniella Problem is this - he seems to have a genuine distaste for bullpens. And not just his, but all of them. I base this supposition on the fact that throughout the long course of his managerial career, he has exerted the patience of a bleeding hemopheliac at a blood bank. He gives up on a reliever after the first walk. He yanks guys at the first sign of trouble. He gets angry. He gets noisy. He finds a pitcher who's successful and he uses him until the guy's shoulder starts making grinding noises during every pitch. Much like batting the wrong guy leadoff, this is something a team can get away with for 162 games - especially if they have the talent to replace burned out arms or pitchers who get prematurely abandoned. But in the playoffs, we want our team to have a well-oiled, seasoned bullpen who are comfortable with their roles and have earned the faith of their skipper. Is the way Piniella handles his pen at all conducive to winning a playoff series? Again, just asking.
Anyway, these are probably going to be recurring storylines all year long. But this might be the first time in my life that I give up on a winning manager who's leading my favorite team toward the playoffs. Thing is, if other people notice these trends, I definitely won't be alone.
Then again, any time one of our readers complain about a Cub's play, I caution patience and talk about how early it is. So I'll definitely give Uncle Lou plenty of rope to hang himself with. I promise.
Kosuke Fukudome! Fooky built onto his big night against the Astros by going 2 for 5 last night. After 14 at bats, Koss-Kay is batting .429 with a homer. I'm not positive, but those figures are probably going to drop.
Milton Bradley. I've never seen a guy with a .083 AVG have a .722 OPS, but while his discipline hasn't turned into hits yet, Bradley is going to explode. He hit his first homer as a Cub yesterday - also his first hit as a Cub - and I expect him to keep it up.
Mike Fontenot. Little Babe Ruth is batting .412 this year. I've been advocating that he be the #2 hitter in the lineup. Then again, he's yet to draw a walk. Either way I can't complain - FonteYES has been hitting.
Ryan Theriot. Ignore the AVG, the hits, the runs, and focus instead on the boneheaded defense that cost the Cubs yesterday's game. Then, turn your mind back and recall a time in October when Theriot was a part of the Infield of Errors that Carlos had to suffer through in Game 2 of the NLDS. Maybe it's time for Lou to mandate some extra practice for TheQuietRiot.
Kevin Gregg. Not a great start for the Cubs closer. Based on how he pitched in March, he obviously wanted this gig. I wouldn't expect Lou to take it from him any time soon, but at this rate Carlos Marmol will be playing set-up man to his own closer (thus putting him on pace to toss 120 innings in '09) by mid May.
This would mean so much more if I actually wrote this before the start of the game. But ... in his first 09 appearance, will Harden be effective or get injured? Will Fukudome continue on his recent success or will he flat-line? And will Milton Bradley get his first hit of the season?
The Fonz - 2 homeruns, lots of base hits, and being spoiled at leadoff. Classic.
The Fook - After one explosive day, he was back to batting .400 on the season. Can't complain about that.
The Font - He won the starting job in Spring and so far he hasn't left anybody wondering why.
Derrek Lee - Presently he's not even batting Neifi Perez's weight.
Milton Bradley - Well, for a guy with no hits he sure as heck has a great OBP, but still.
5 innings in, the Cubs are down 2-1 -- with their one run coming from Milton Bradley's first hit of the season, a homer. Soriano is 0 for 3, Lee is 0 for 2, and Rich Harden has thrown 5 innings and struck out 9 batters, apparently on less than 90 pitches.
So how about some late inning magic from the Cubs, eh? Eh!?!
The last time the Cubs (2-1) took on the Brewers (1-2), Milwaukee took 2 of 3 and slid barely into the playoffs. Since then, the Brew Crew have lost both aces and the Cubs have gotten stronger through the addition of Milton Bradley and the subtraction of Jason Marquis. But it's not exactly a sure-thing that the Cubs win the whole she-bang; that's why they actually play the games. Maybe the Brewers will keep up with them all year long, or maybe they'll evaporate like I expect them to. Either way, today is the first of many meetings between these teams, and they should all be exciting games to watch. Here's how they break down...
Rich Harden (no record) vs. Braden Looper (no record)
Rich Harden, also known as Mark Prior 2.0, may or may not be healthy with an emphasis on the "may not" part of what I just said. I don't think anybody - even his own mother - is expecting him to make 30 starts in 2009. He's pretty much the unanimous pick of the GROTA crew to get hurt first and stay hurt longest. And we're already sweating bullets over his less-than-dominating Spring Training. But imagine, if you will, the possibility that he stays healthy and remains effective. A guy with an ERA of 2.67 since 2005 is the Cubs 4th pitcher in the rotation. That's kind of insane.
Braden Looper, meanwhile, is a closer-turned starter who's seen a respectable amount of success. The only problem is that he's either replacing CC Sabathia in the rotation or Ben Sheets. Either way he loses. Against the Cubs he has a career 2.63 ERA, and a surprising 3-6 record. (In case you weren't sure, that would be the definition of hard-luck loser.)
Carlos Zambrano (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. Dave Bush (0-0, 18.00 ERA)
Ah, Carlos. I have to admit I feel stress watching the Big Moose pitch. For me it all started during the '04 season. It seemed that any time I'd tune in to watch Mark Prior or Kerry Wood take the mound, they'd mysteriously exit the games early due to some new round of elbow/shoulder pussonitis. After his bouts with soreness last year, Carlos has assimilated into that role for me. You can probably understand how relieving it was that he had a good opening day, even though he got into too much trouble and probably walked too many players. But he won! That's all that counts!
The only problem about Dave Bush is that I can't believe ESPN is right in projecting him as the Game 2 starter. After all, he was already called on once this season to pitch in relief, where he was solidly rocked to the tune of 3 earned runs. But I'm just the messenger and I'm way too lazy to look up that kind of information elsewhere. So if I'm wrong, blame our friends at ESPN.
Ryan Dempster (0-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (0-1, 13.50 ERA)
Ryan Dempster. The 50 million dollar question mark. Put yourself in his clown-shoes for a second. You're a hard-working mediocre closer who gets the chance to start and then BOOM! you win 17 games and are offered the contract of a lifetime. What do you do with the money? Do you buy the biggest house, biggest boat, and biggest car you can find? Do you feed the starving children in Africa with their gas-bloated bellies and stick-thin limbs? Perhaps sex slaves and drug binges? Maybe he should produce his own rap video and release it. That would be an awesome way to spend his f**k-you money.
Jeff Suppan, who is apparently the #2 pitcher on the Brewers, (or maybe #3 if Yovani Gallardo is half-decent) went 10-10 last year with an ERA of 4.96, and after a single start this year his ERA is 13.50. Chances are he will improve on that ERA. Hopefully it won't be by much. Even if Dempster isn't as effective as he was in 2008, he should still be a better pitcher on Sunday than Jeff Suppan. Just sayin'.
The Brewers are partly the reason I think the Cubs could win 100. Last year Milwaukee managed to win better than 90 games, mostly thanks to the arms of Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia, both of whom are long gone. But despite their still-impressive offense, the Brewers as-assembled will struggle to be much better than a .500 team. Their pitching just isn't there.
The Cubs, meanwhile, just took 2 of 3 from Houston and will look to gain early momentum in the NL Central. But it could go one of two ways... it could be a high scoring series for both teams, or if the Cubs pitching lives up to their end of the bargain it could be amazingly lop-sided. But one thing I would be shocked to see is a series of Brewer blow-out wins in which their pitchers shut down the Cubs offense. So blame me if that happens since I said it's not bloody likely.
And just like that, the 2008 regular season comes to a close. CC Sabathia finally was able to beat the Cubs, although Lou hardly trotted out his best players today. What's more, Sabathia pitched again on short rest and went the distance - 122 pitches and 7 strikeouts to notch another big win. With all due respect to Webb, maybe the Brewers lefty should get some votes for the Cy Young.
The Cubs were offensively quiet today; in fact, Theriot and Ramirez accounted for all their hits. The Cubs pitching was pretty effective - Angel Guzman rediscovered some of that God-given talent and struck out 4 Brewers in 2 innings of work, before turning it over to an assorted cast of characters. Gaudin, Cotts, Hart, Marshall, Wuertz, and Howry, proceeded to get some work, and ironically it was only the guys up for post season roster consideration who looked bad.
I'm sure some Cub fans are a little frustrated that the team couldn't hold onto their thin lead and force Milwaukee into a one-game with the Mets, but this was clearly not today's objective. Lou Piniella was looking to get all of his relievers a little work. In the process, he discovered something we've known for quite a while - the only time Bob Howry doesn't let a hit drop onto the playing field is when it cannot be contained by the park. Unfortunately, that's often. In the 8th inning, Howry managed to secure 2 outs before giving up the game-changing homer, but even the second out of the inning was one that almost escaped the ballpark. This takes us to ...
Well, I was hoping for a sweep, but upon reflection it would have required a minor miracle. But chin up, Cub fans. The Brewers look far from invincible. To get to the post season, they have loaded up their workhorse ace and probably sooner rather than later, he's going to wear out. And while Bob Howry has to be the most concerning post season selection I've seen since Lou penciled in Jason Marquis, the are unlikely to use him in a tight spot. We might see Howry come in if they are leading by 8 or losing by 8, but I doubt he'll be pitching in a close situation. Let's keep that in mind.
Bring on the Dodgers
Now that Milwaukee has clinched, the Dodgers are lined up to play the Cubs. This is the first post season in a long, long while in which all New York teams will be watching from home, which is rare and makes things more interesting, at least for me. This will also be a particularly interesting NLDS because, while the Cubs have beaten the Dodgers in the season series, it was mostly in low-scoring games and without the presence of Manny Ramirez. Back in June and July, 1460's Jon Miller and I went back and forth on this a lot - the Dodgers were a little concerning. But now that September is finally ending, I say bring 'em on. If the Cubs can't beat the weakest team to make the playoffs, then they don't deserve to beat anybody else.
I'm going to start on a Post Season Scouting Report, which I will publish at some point tomorrow. In the meantime, let's give Milwaukee their moment, but let's not forget something - we owned them all year long, and we'll own them in the NLCS if we have to.
It's really next to impossible to compare teams in different eras, so maybe these really aren't "the best in our life-times" as I have so brazenly declared. But in terms of wins, the '08 Cubs have now won more games than any Cubs team since 1945 with their 97th tonight. They have also dealt a blow to the Brewers that can best be described as the punch that comes before the knockout. They just put one on Milwaukee's chin; the Brewers have crossed their eyes, and one massive roundhouse shot to the temple will be all she wrote for the Milwaukee season ... assuming the Mets win tomorrow.
Pity Ben Sheets. He tried. He was chased early in the 3rd, after having given up 4 runs on 53 pitches. He then sounded like a total idiot in the post game, saying "That's all I had. I got a broke arm, I got a broke arm. It's not really broke, but it's all I had for the year. Things definitely don't look like they’re on my side."
Although Sheets was chased early, the Cubs still toyed with Milwaukee, keeping it close. In the 7th and 8th innings, the Brewers threatened and even managed to come within a run after Jason Marquis's relief pitching post season audition. de Suck managed to get the first out in the 8th against the first batter he faced, and he then proceeded to walk Russell Branyan, he surrendered an RBI single to Craig Counsell, and he then hit Ryan Braun. Lou then called the bullpen, and spoke briefly to Neal Cotts about coming into the game. Cotts yelled "you need me!" into the phone, trotted out to the mound, and gave up an RBI single to Prince Fielder. With his formerly comfortable lead evaporated, Lou turned to Michael Wuertz who managed to force two fielders' choices and escaped the inning.
Phew. Sounds like a lot of excitement. Fortunately, the 9th was boring. Kerry Wood came into the game but left his leopard-print tights back in the clubhouse for a boring 1-2-3 end to an otherwise thrilling game. Granted, it was a non-save situation thanks to Kosuke Fukudome, who hit his 10th homer of the year in the top of the 9th, but that doesn't matter. The point is that the Cubs won.
Now, our friend and team manager Lou Piniella knows the importance of the next step. He knows that, between the Mets and the Brewers, CC Sabathia is perhaps as equally dangerous as Johan Santana in a short series. But Lou must also surely know that Santana could pitch no more than twice in a 5 game set, compared to facing Sabathia perhaps as often as 3 times in a 7 gamer. What's more, Lou recognizes that the Mets are the walking wounded, while the Brewers are comparatively intact. For all of those reasons, Lou probably realizes it might benefit the Cubs to play the Mets in Round 1 and leave it up to the Dodgers and Phillies to fight it out for who they'd play in Round 2. That's why Lou will be turning to the Ice Man, The Clutch Captain, to beat Sabathia tomorrow in order to give the Mets their shot of clinching the Wild Card. That's right, Lou Piniella is calling upon ... Angel Guzman for the final start of the year?!
What. The. Huh???!
Well, you never know. Guzman has not been nearly as effective since the doctors sliced all that God-given speed and movement from his shoulder and elbow, but the Cubs have shown a disposition to beat Sabathia. Maybe Milwaukee will collapse and it won't matter that Guzman is only able to last 3 innings himself. Maybe the Mets will win and it'll go to a 1 game playoff regardless of what the Brewers do. Maybe a playoff would be the best thing, because it weakens the winner - whomever it is - for the NLDS.
Maybe - and this is perhaps the most likely scenario - Lou Piniella realizes it doesn't matter. He's not afraid of the other teams in the NL. He knows that he has the most complete, the most competent, the most decisively built team in all of baseball. He is not afraid to play the Brewers in the NLCS, he's not afraid to play the Mets in the NLDS, and he'd rather rest up to win on Wednesday, rather than worry about winning a fairly pointless game on Sunday.
So, Angel Guzman, go get 'em. And to all the Cubs who will actually be playing on the post season roster, go get 'em ... on Wednesday.
Milwaukee got off to a great start last night, winning a game they could not afford to lose. And while Cub fans have to be mildly concerned with the hemorrhaging by the bullpen, we just need to remember one extremely important detail - the guy who turned it into a route for Milwaukee was Chad Gaudin. If he's going to the playoffs, it will only be because he's bought a ticket. Lou Piniella probably can't get him out of the clubhouse fast enough right now. In fact, Gaudin has fallen so far so fast that he's actually turned Bob Howry - Bob F****ng Howry! - into a viable post season option.
Also used last night in the pen were Jeff Smardzija and Carlos Marmol - leaving Kerry Wood to fend for himself all alone tomorrow night when the Cubs are in a perilous close-and-late situation.
Offensively, while the Cubs were unable to strike, they did threaten a lot. The team accounted for 9 hits and 2 walks, including 3 from Mike Fontenot. Who ever thought that Lil' Babe Ruth would earn himself a playoff starting gig? Fontenot has his batting average up to .303 on the season.
Other big hitters last night - Jim Edmonds, who smacked his 20th homerun last night, and Ryan Theriot both accounted for 2 of the team's hits. The big point of concern happened in the middle innings when Geovany Soto hurt his hand fouling off a pitch. Soto - who I'm on the brink of nicknaming Hedwig, but I won't explain why - has had a sore hand at various points in the season, but he said after the game that he will be fine and not even being struck by a hail of bullets would keep him out of the playoffs.
By the way, Dempster wound up throwing exactly 80 pitches and lasting 5 innings. While he did not walk away with win #18, he was able to lower his seasonal ERA to 2.96.
The Cubs tee off on - er, square off with the fragile - uhm, invincible Ben Sheets today in an early game. If they want to deny the Brewers a trip to the playoffs, it's a game the Cubs really can't afford to lose.
In what could be great news for the Cubs or a Willis moment for the Brewers, Ben Sheets will be pitching tomorrow for the Crew.
ESPN is reporting that Sheets threw 20 pitches in a side session yesterday, and while his sore elbow would require a "minor miracle" to be healed enough for him to pitch again, he will try to do just that.
It's an interesting scenario. If I was a Brewers fan, I would be dead set opposed to it. Actually, I'd take the same perspective if I was Sheets's agent. The Brewers ace may be available via free agency this off season, and considering that he's arguably missed 30+ starts over the last 4 seasons due to arm issues, he may be damaging his free agency value by risking further devestation to it tomorrow. I guess he just wants to get into the playoffs that badly, as if whichever team he signs with next year won't be likely to get him there.
Regardless, it's a bold move, and I'll make a bold prediction: if he returns and, on grit, guile, and, erm, something else that starts with the letter "g," he dominates the Cubs and delivers a victory, then the Brewers will momentum their way to a Sunday win as well, and a playoff appearance. But if he comes in, tosses 2 innings, leaves the Brewers with a 5 run deficit, and enters the off season as a free agent in need of arm repair, then he will have to strongly be considered for the Idiot Sportsman of the Year Award, which I just invented.
Kind of makes you wish they'd go back to a 154 game schedule, doesn't it?
The Cubs have played 158 so far, they will play no more than 161, but at this stage everything has been decided for them. Chicago has accomplished the best record in the NL, they've brutally beaten up on most of the teams who they might play in the post season, and we now sit anxiously, waiting for the playoffs to begin. It sure beats sitting anxiously, waiting to find out if our team will make the playoffs at all.
Much earlier this season, I lamented the stress that Cub fans endure. They never make it easy, I said. Just once, I wish they would. And although the Cubs have given us 62 losses, some of which left us feeling as though we'd been blasted in the face with duck shot, although Chicago has endured a handful of losing streaks that scared the crap out of us, they did exactly what I hoped would happen. The Cubs clinched with ease. And now here I am, stomach battling back the butterfly hoards, lamenting with great impatience the long wait for the playoffs to start. Hey, I'll take it!
Actually, this is the fun part. I doubt that Cub fans hate them the way some of us hate the Cardinals, White Sox, or Mets, but the Brewers are not on our list of favorites, either. Milwaukee is a young team with dangerous players. They went out and traded for the single-best pitcher on the market. They cut their worst relief pitcher, they fired their incompetent manager, and they've still been eating the Cubs smoke-trail all season long. If we don't hate them, their fans must hate the Cubs by now. And for that reason alone, I hope the Cubs throttle them this weekend. Deal the death blow. Let's take a look at how it breaks down:
I usually would jump straight to the pitching match-ups, but lineups are actually a topic of discussion right now, more than ever. Brewer fans are upset because the Cubs did not put forth their All Star lineup in New York, allowing the Mets to split the series and keeping them tied for the Wild Card. Actually, Brewer fans should be ecstatic - as I pointed out before, the Cubs basically trotted out the American Legion Softball Team and still the Mets barely managed to win 2. That doesn't bode well for New York.
However, to add injury to insult, Lou has said that he will be using his regulars more often this series. He denied that it was some grand conspiracy to keep Milwaukee out of the playoffs, but as he said that, Lou was winking, nodding, and making bizarre sexual gestures while also flashing a thumbs up. (This would lead me to think more that he was going senile, rather than to think that there in fact is a conspiracy). The reason Lou will be using all his starters in as many as 2 of the 3 games this weekend is because he needs to keep them warm for the playoffs, and there will be a 2 day layoff between the last game of the season and the first game of the NLDS. Makes sense to me.
Friday, Sept 26th, 7PM Central - Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.99 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (10-10, 5.06 ERA)
Dempster will be going for win #18 in an epic battle with a guy who wouldn't even beat Jason Marquis for a spot in the Cubs rotation. Actually, two things may be working against Dempster tonight. First, if most of the Cubs regulars will get any time off this series, it'll be in this game. Lou will likely start everybody for the last 2. Second, Lou has said that the Cubs starters will be limited to 75-80 pitches, and while Clownsevelt has been effective, he hasn't ever been economical. He may not get past the 5th inning.
Saturday, Sept 27th, 2:55PM Central - Ted Lilly (16-9, 4.17 ERA) vs. Dave Bush (9-10, 4.25 ERA)
Lilly's ERA is not much better than Bush's, but Ted has a much better record and I'd much sooner trust our left handed starter in the playoffs. Considering the end-of-the-season pitching match-ups, this might very well be a must-win for the Cubs if they are looking to keep Milwaukee out of the playoffs.
Sunday, Sept 28th, 1:05PM Central - Jason Marquis (11-9, 4.43 ERA) vs. C.C. Sabathia (16-10, 2.80 ERA)
Jason Marquis finds himself in a rare situation. What if, on Sunday, the Brewers need to win to get into the playoffs? What if Marquis out-duels Sabathia, denying Milwaukee a trip to the playoffs? What if, immediately after that, flames shoot out of my ass? It's about as likely!
In all seriousness, Marquis is the one Cub starter who shouldn't be on a pitch count, because he's the one Cubs starter who won't be starting games in the NLDS. Sabathia has not had the best of luck against the Cubs, he's thrown an epic amount of innings this season, and and fatigue has to be settling in. Who knows, maybe the Wild Card will be determined before Sunday, but maybe it won't. It could be the biggest game of Marquis' season.
Predictions: A little while back, I predicted that the Cubs would win 99 games this season. It could happen, but it's going to be an uphill battle for them. If Chicago takes 2 of 3, then chances are Milwaukee won't be making any trips in October. Even if the Cubs take 1 of 3, then Chicago will have their highest wins total since 1945. And we all know what happened in 1945 - the war ended and everybody was very happy, except the Germans. And wasn't Milwaukee originally a German settlement? Serendipity, my friends. Serendipity.