Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Series Previews

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at. St. Louis Cardinals

Cubs v. CardsMatchups
Overview

In celebration of the Cubs losing their first three game series of the season, I thought it might be appropriate to indulge in a bit of all-caps panicking.  To wit:

  • AGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!  CUBS CAN'T SCORE!!!!! PUT MICAH IN AT CATCHER!!!!!!!
  • AND SECOND BASE!!!!!!!!!!!
  • TRADE MILTON BRADLEY FOR THREE WEDGES OF BRIE AND A LIGHT BRIGHT!!!!!!!!
  • SANDWICHES!!!!!!!!!!

THERE. er, there.  That felt pretty good, right?  Right.

So yeah, the Cubs offense has been slightly worse than stagnant (repugnant?) these last couple of games, managing a mere one run and two walks in two games.  Granted, they faced two pretty good pitchers, but c'mon!  And to top it all off, their would-be-star right fielder is out for the foreseeable future and nobody seems to think he should go onto the DL.

Who's up for a bit more Hoffpauir gymnastics in the outfield?  Rock.

And so now the Cubs will roll into the deep south (too deep for my taste, anyway) and attempt to stop the greatest show on sod.  The Cardinals offense has been hot as a firecracker lately, with the always Ted Williams-esque Albert Pujols doing his thing and the curiously unstoppable Chris Duncan and Ryan Ludwick (and the most curious of the curious, Yadier Molina.  I mean, what the hell?) mashing the ball.  I'm fairly certain that the Cards won't end the season with three hitters OPS'ing over a thousand but, for now, it's a pain in the ass.

Alright, enough fear and pain.  The slump ends here!  The Cubs will rally!  Geo will get a hit!  Fontenot is a star!  CUUUUUBBBBBSSSSSS!!!!!!!

April 24th Ryan Dempster vs. Adam Wainwright

Dare I say that Dempster is proving the naysayers right?  Dare I say it?  DARE I?  Nah, I don't really dare.  I mean, it's only been a few starts and, hey, at least he has a lower ERA that Big Z.  His stuff still looks good (not that there was ever an issue with that), but his control has been quite spotty (always an issue).  We've got four more years of Ryan, so here's hoping it's just a rough start.  For the record, I think it is.

Hey look, another pitcher with good stuff and spotty control.  Adam Wainwright, if anyone can, should solve the Cubs walking woes.  Wainwright was solid but unspectacular in his last start against the Cubs, but that was the hot-hitting Cubs.  Who knows what your mid-to-late April Cubs can do.

April 25th Sean Marshall vs. Mitchell Boggs

Hey look, I totally got a prediction spot on!  I predicted that Marshall would be a bit rusty in his last start and not be all that impressive.  The result: 5 innings, three runs, and some wildness.  I'm frickin' Kreskin.  Marshall, yet again, has been off for awhile, but not for almost a month, so look for him to be a bit more in control.  He's a solid pitcher and I'm looking for a solid outing.  Thus speaks Jason.

Mitchell Boggs, Wade Boggs' father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate*, was less than spectacular last year, posting a ERA north of 7.  He's only thrown two innings this year, so he's unlikely to have too much in the tank.  In the past, this kind of pitcher would give the Cubs fits, but this is a more patient team and should have more success.  You know, in theory.  Ah, who am I kidding.  Kids like this still terrify me.

That and spiders.

(* may not be true)

April 26th Rich Harden vs. Todd Wellemeyer

Hey look, someone who I can say nothing but positive things about!  Harden is a freak of nature, striking out an amazing 26 men in only 15 innings.  And the stats don't even list how man women he might have struck out!  He's on pace for...calculating...8430 strikeouts in 145 innings.  That's very impressive.  I think that might even be a record.

Todd Wellemeyer, on the other hand, has been less impressive.  I think it's because he realized he's Todd Wellemeyer.  His control's been good but the hits, oh the hits!, they've been a-fallin'.  29 hits in only 17 innings!  Hey Todd, Bob Howry called and he wants his WHIP back.

Conclusions

And so the Cubs are facing yet another season-breaking series.  The Cubs are still only one game out in the loss column, so they're still not technically out of the race yet, but they're on the edge of the edge.  This is not a must win, I suppose, but it would be nice to have.  Or that's total crap and it's April.  I get a bit confused sometimes.

Note from Kurt
I'm always the one to tag on to the end of somebody else's hard work and take credit.  It's just the way I roll; you can thank me for the invention of the BK Triple Stacker. 

As noted in the GROTA ShoutBox - for which somebody has already learned how to turn into a website marketing ploy (tisk, tisk, don't make me burn you) - Lou Piniella woke up lucid today and produced a new lineup.

Ryan Theriot - who has been hitting everything in sight - leads off.
Kosuke Fukudome - who has been hitting that ball like a pimp who's owed money - bats second.
Alfonso Soriano - plays leadoff, acts cleanup - bats third.
Aramis Ramirez - Clutchy McClutcherson - bats cleanup.
Derrek Lee - still DP FREE! - bats 5th.

You know what?  It... it actually makes sense!  It is proof again that Dusty Baker doesn't manage the Cubs.  And while I'm unwilling to realign my support of Piniella based on one lineup, I'm shocked, pleased, and awed. 

Lou Piniella.  Well played.

Quick Links

Series Recap: Cubs 2, Cardinals 1

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Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds vs. Chicago Cubs

Reds @ Chicago
Match-Ups
To find out what Reds fans feel about this series, mosey on over to Red Hot Mama's blog.  We haven't heard from RHM in a while, but she was always a spunky Reds fan until Dusty Baker broke her spirit. 
 
Overview

Do you remember where you were when you found out that Dusty Baker was going to become the manager of the Reds?  Do you remember how good it felt?  Tony LaRussa aside, the NL Central has had more than its share of idiot managers.  Unfortunately those days are ending, though as the Brewers freed themselves of Ned Yost last year.

But unfortunately for the Reds Dusty's probably going to keep his job for the duration of the year.  He's like Teflon - once you commit to him, he sticks until the last bitter day of his contract.  Consequently the Reds are a young, talented team with the wrong players in the lineup.  They're a team with some incredible pitchers who get over-used and obliterated.  And I don't feel good about it.  I remember all-too-well the sickening feeling that Dusty left in my gut.  I wouldn't wish that on any team, but I'm thankful that the Reds are a non-factor based on the way they are managed.  One less worry.

That said, Cincy owned Ted Lilly last year.  I can't explain it.  But Roosevelt was 0-4 against the Reds with an 8.15 ERA.  Perhaps not coincidentally, 8 of Joey Votto's 24 homeruns came against the Cubs last year.  It was brutal.  Anyway, the match-ups:

April 21st Micah Owings vs. Rich Harden
Micah Owings.  26 years old and in his first year with the Reds.  Young Micah has only pitched one game so far this year, and Dusty limited him to 89 pitches.  But now that he's had the chance to stretch his arm, the gloves are off.  I'm predicting 110+ pitches unless Owings gets into early trouble.

Rich Harden has some interesting numbers so far.  He's thrown 9 innings and struck out 18.  Between all those strikeouts though are 8 hits, 6 walks, and 5 earned runs.  He was unhittable in his first outing, he was chased after 3 innings in his second, he has to be looking for consistency in his third. 

April 22nd Johnny Cueto vs. Ted Lilly
Johnny Cueto.  23 years old.  As a rookie he started 31 games, threw 174 innings, and still managed to toss 110-or-more pitches 8 times - and he threw 109 pitches twice more.  Already in 2 starts this year Cueto has had an outing in which he threw 109 pitches - his first of the year on April 11th.  I pity Reds fans because Cueto's first big injury is only a matter of time and I'm betting he misses a big chunk of either 2010 or 2011.

Psycho has something to prove.  In 17.2 innings last year against the Reds, he allowed 18 hits, 10 walks, and 16 earned runs.  Subtract his season against the Reds and Ted Lilly was 17-5 with an ERA of 3.71.  You don't need a Colin Wyers to tell you that such a dramatic difference between Lilly v. The League and Lilly v. The Reds is bizarre if not flat-out fishy. 

April 23rd Aaron Harang vs. Carlos Zambrano
In 2007, Harang was a 16-game winner with 218 strikeouts.  In 2008, he might have done the same.  Then, Dusty very famously used him between starts to pitch 4 innings of relief against San Diego.  His season turned to mush after that and he finished '08 with 17 losses and an ERA of 4.78.  So far in '09, Harang is averaging 105 pitches a game, he's tossed a complete game against Pittsburgh, and his ERA is 2.70.  Is he back?  Is he healthy?  Is it just a matter of time before Dusty sends him to the DL again?

Carlos has something in common with pretty much every Cubs starter in '09 -- he's yet to find consistency.  He's had great games and terrible games and that's an impressive feat since he's only thrown three games all year.  In 2008 Zambrano was 4-0 against the Reds with an ERA of 1.20.  I'm sure he'll work to continue that level of success.

Conclusions
Only a game separates the Cubs and the Reds in the standings, but probably nobody - not even Red fans - expect Cincy to keep up all year long.  It's not the fault of the way the team's been built - on paper, I'd expect the Reds to win more than they lose.  The problem is that the genius running the team is a certifiable baseball idiot. 

He's got a decent team if only he didn't insist on batting lead off a guy who's never walked more than 36 times in a season.  He's got a rotation that mixes fantastic youngsters with talented veterans, except you'd win a lot of money if you could accurately guess which one was heading to the DL first. 

And most shocking of all, Dusty's got a job in baseball.  I'll never understand that one.  For that reason alone, I expect the Cubs to sweep each and every time they play the Reds.

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Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

Cards vs. CubsCards vs. Cubs

So yeah, as it turns out, I missed all of both games in the Cubs v. Rockies series.  That's okay, I don't like kissing my sister anyway*.  As far as I can tell, all you need to know from last series is that Harden is the Adam Dunn of pitcher (strikeouts, walks, or big hits.  Nothing in between) and Ted Lilly is the finest throwing serial killer this side of Ted Bundy (0.37 ERA in the penal league).  But I already knew that, so there's no reason to watch the games (or, alternatively, SCREW HAVING A JOB).

But before we get to the matchups, I will say this:

  • Damn Pirates.  I never did trust Nate McClouth.
  • This is the most important series of the year.  If the Cubs are swept by the Cardinals, they'll be four games out in the standings.  No team has ever come back from a four game deficit with less than nine months left to play in the season**.
  • And how about those Cardinals?  Who knew you could fatten your record by playing the Astros and Pirates at home.  Oh wait. 
  • Carpenter is headed to the DL.  I did not see that coming.  HOLY CRAP!  WHAT'S THAT THING RISING OUT OF THE EAST?!?  Oh wait, it's just the sun.  When did that thing start rising in the east?

* in actuality, I don't even have a sister.  And in actuality, it sounds HOT

** May not actually be true

Match-ups

Thursday April 16th
Adam Wainwright vs. Sean Marshall

I'll tell ya, that Adam Wainwright has always given the Cubs the business.  I'm not sure what it is, but I think it's the Braden Looper/Todd Wellemeyer effect.  We just can't handle the converted relievers (much like Koyie Hill can't digest the converted rice).  Wainwright's been gold this year, so I expect that the Cubs will have their work cut out for them.

Sean Marshall is...well, he's well rested.  Other than a couple of very brief appearances, he's been spending most of the season watching reruns of Friends (that Joey!) while off days conspired to keep him off the hill.  I see good things in the future for Marshall and he had an exceptional spring, but I certainly worry about rust (you know, rust never sleeps.  That FREAKS ME OUT).  There's a very good chance that Marshall will be wild and ends up out early.  This will be a tough win for the Cubs.

Friday April 17th
Kyle Lohse vs. Carlos Zambrano

Lohse is another pitcher off to a quick start but, unlike Wainwright, hasn't had the recent success to back it up.  Lohse, in his career, has been decent but unspectacular, toiling in relative obscurity for the Twins and Reds.  In fact, last year was his first good season in, well, in ever.  Dave Duncan effect?

Carlos is anything but obscure.  Carlos is off to a pretty solid start, with a great first outing and a decent second, but I'm sure he's thrilled to be back at Wrigley.  Besides, Carlos is back with his good buddy Geo.  Good things are going to happen.  Good chance for the Cubbies.

Good.

Saturday, April 18th
Todd Wellemeyer vs. Ryan Dempster

Hey look, Todd Wellemeyer!  I was just talking about him!  Wellemeyer was pretty good last year and I'm happy for him (being a former Cub and all), but he's off to a bit slower start this year.  It's posible he's realized that he's Todd Wellemeyer.  It's also possible that he just needs to face the Cubs.  Someone just told me three paragraphs ago that the Cubs have issues with converted relievers.  And rice.

Dempster!  That crazy Canadian!  He's...well, he's almost off to the exact same start as Todd Wellemeyer.  How's that make you feel Ryan?  Proud?  I hope you're proud of ourself.  Maybe this game, you can try throwing strikes.

Someone sound the even matchup alarm!  We've got a barn burner!

Sunday, April 19th
Matthew Lesko vs. Ted Lilly

Want to get your moneyback from the government?  The crazies at the post office yesterday certainly wanted me to.  Well, just Ask Lesko!

I'd write something about Lilly, but he's currently enjoying his dinner and I have to help Koyie Hill find his fingers.  I know they're around here somewhere...


Conclusion
In conclusion, ESPN disagrees with each and every one of these predicted matchups.  However, our graphic is better, so screw ESPN.

Note from Kurt
I was up until effin' 1AM working on these graphics!  Damn ESPN for not updating their supposed schedule until this morning!  The issue was that, until last night, they still had Carpenter listed as the Sunday starter -- hence the ??? graphic and the Lesko joke.

Sidebar - I didn't know Lesko's name, so I googled something like "crazy question mark guy" and his wikipedia entry was the first hit.  Seriously.  End sidebar.

Anyway, I'm probably not going to go back and re-do the graphic.  Screw ESPN.  If they wait until the last minute to update their projections, then everybody has to pay the price of having inaccurate information!


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Series Preview: Rockies vs. Cubs

Rockies v. Cubsmatchups
Let me see if I've got this straight.  The Cubs are opening their season at Wrigley Field against the Rockies in the midst of a torrential downpour.  Unfortunately, the Cubs don't have an open date to make up the game with Colorado, so they're playing in the rain.

Except the Cubs aren't scheduled to play tomorrow.  Go figure.

Anyway, let's take a quick look at this series:

Game One
Ted Lilly vs. Ubaldo Jiminez
In his first game of the season, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly intermixed an effective outing with a bout of batting practice.  The result is that he either looked very good or he looked behind him in order to watch the ball sail out of the park.  He served 4 homeruns in his first game of the year, and he is surely hoping to make up for it with a solid performance today.

His opponent, Ubaldo Jiminez is one tough S.O.B.  You can tell becuase he's survived life with the name Ubaldo.  He's also entering his second full sason as a Rockies starter - last year he threw just under 200 innings and went 12-12 with an ERA of 3.99.  That's just about as good as it gets in Colorado.  However he did throw 7 innings of shutout ball in his first game of the season, so he looks like he means business.

Game Two
Rich Harden vs. Jason Marquis
Only in baseball can one pitcher give up 4 homeruns in a single game and walk away with a 9.00 ERA and the win, while another pitcher can strike out 10 in 6 innings of work and walk away with a no-decision.  Chances are, Harden will not make every start this season.  But it's comforting to know that he's still an ass kicker when he makes them at all. 

His opponent is the legendary ex Cub named Jason Marquis, whose nickname while pitching for the North Side was de Suck.  He won his first game as a Rockie last week, but he still sucks.  If baseball is fair, then this game will be a no-brainer.

Conclusions
Crap, I dunno.  Either the Cubs win or they lose.  Or they split.  but having won 4 of their first 6 while on the road, we can only hope that the team's success will continue now that they're home. 

But one bit of sour news - although Geovany Soto pinch hit last night, he's still not in the starting lineup today.  That means the Cubs are down two starters, although Koyie Hill and Reed Johnson both appear extremely capable of picking up the slack when necessary.

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Cubs at Brewersmatch-upsOverview
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...

Game One
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.) 

Game Two
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.

Game Three
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'. 

Summary
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.

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Houston Astros

Cubs vs. AstrosGame Lines

Hey, look, it's time for real baseball!  And do you know how I know it's time?  Because it snowed last night in Chicago (oh look, I just killed myself).  Nothing says baseball like a thin coating of slush and a 24 degree wind chill.

But no problem for the Cubs because they'll be playing it beautiful Houston under a starry sky (assuming, of course, that they paint some sort of starry sky on the roof of the Houston Dome.  Again, nothing says baseball...). 

Alright, enough talking about the weather as a) unless you're my grandparents, you stopped feigning interest 175 characters ago and b) the weather sucks.  Here are your keys to the series:

  • Has Houston recovered from their climate fatigue?  You may recall the devastating hurricane at the end of last season that left Houston mentally unprepared for their game against the Cubs, resulting in a no-hitter for Carlos and a one-hitter for Lilly.  Will they be up for today's game?  I'm so excited to find out, I think I just soiled myself!
  • Hey look!  Ten seasons at Minute Maid!  That's just...super.
  • Questions still linger as to whether Wandy Rodriguez has recovered from World Pillow Fight Day.  Who knew he was allergic to down?
  • While the word is that Lance Berkman remains inconsolable at the loss of Megan Joy, I don't see this affecting his game any.  The man's a professional.

It's baseball time in America (And Texas).  Let's take a look at the matchups.

Game One - Carlos Zambrano vs. Roy Oswalt

Can Carlos dominate the Astros without the aid of a Hurricane?  I say yes because, although opening day has not historically been a friend to Carlos, last year he handled the Astros to a tune of a 2.96 ERA and I don't believe a hurricane could have hit before more than half of those games.  Besides, Carlos is exceptional on 6+ days rest, and I don't have a record of him pitching in over 6 months.

Roy Oswalt is probably even a little better than Carlos (god, I hope Carlos isn't reading this.  If his is, I live at 100 Wallaby Lane, Australia City, Australia) and is easily one of the best pitchers in the league.  Against the Cubs, however, he has not be particularly dominating and last year he only managed 3 strikeouts in his 15 innings. 

It's an epic matchup, people!  Set your VCRs!

Game Two - Ryan Dempster vs. Wandy Rodriguez

Wandy name is an adjective (Harry Potter's wand was rather wandy); Ryan Dempster's sounds vaguely like "dumpster."  Edge?  Let's give it to the better pitcher.  Ryan Dempster was the staff ace last year and, up until his epic fail in fifth inning of Game One last year, he was great.  Wandy makes me think of a Spicy Chicken Sandwich, Fries and a Frosty. 

Game two goes to the Demp.

Game Three - Ted Lilly vs. Brian Moehler

Brian Moehler is about as good a third starter as Sean Marshall is a fifth starter.  Which is to say, Moehler is not a good third starter.  But when your other options are Mike Hampton and...some other guy, you clearly don't have enough options.  Moehler checks in a solidly mediocre with a 4.50 ERA and an 11-8 record. 

Ted Lilly was the best #3 in baseball last year* with 17 wins in his pocket (along with, interestingly enough, 14 fingers.  Watch your back, Koyie).  Lilly was roughed up in his last start, but this is the big time now and look for Lilly to step up.  Of course, this is the classic frustrating Cubs matchup and exactly the kind of game I hate.

(* note: may not actually be true.  No time for research, gotta write!)


I'm going with the Cubs taking two of three (pick your two) against the Astros as a) I'm a Cubs fan and b) the Astros sort of blow.

Go Cubs.


Tip for Purchasing Tickets Online
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Series Preview: Cubs vs. White Sox

Cubs vs. White Sox
This Series Preview sponsored by Bench Aaron Miles!
And welcome to a preview of a preview.  This is the basic format we'll be using during the 2009 season when writing about the upcoming match ups of the Chicago Cubs.  By my count there will be 52 of these over the course of the 2009 season - with an additional 3 possibilities once we get into October.  With that said, let's take a look at tonight's match up:

Cubs vs. White Sox 9:05 Central
Last Regular Season Match Up: Sox 5, Cubs 1
The Last Cubs-Sox Series Preview: June 27-June 29, 2008

Wednesday, March 4th:
Typically I'd outline the likely lineups and pitching match ups, but I've got nothin'.  It's amazing that even in today's world of amazing, modern technology, there's still very little information out there for Spring Training Games.  But Cubs fans, do not fret!  This game is actually going to be on TV -- which is bizarre because it's going to be played so late in the day.

The first time the Cubs met up with the White Sox this Spring, it was less a beating and more of a mugging for the Sox.  The Cubs won 13-0 primarily on the bats of three guys who almost certainly won't make the team - Bobby Scales, Koyie Hill, and Brad Snyder.  Maybe this time they'll do it with the guys who'll actually be playing on the team in April.

Thursday, March 5th:
More of the same.  The Cubs will play the Sox in another televised Spring Game that is more reasonably scheduled for 3:05 Central.  Again, I honestly can't begin to predict who'll be playing for the Cubs in this game, except that I'm sure plenty of (hopefully) part-timers and scrubs will get their time to shine. 

Oh, but that reminds me - tomorrow during the day we'll have a GameCast going on in which we open a topic so that those of us with enough time can hit up the blog and talk Cubs baseball.  We did something similar last October when the Cubs were battling it out with the Dodgers, but this time I won't be covering the game in real-time.  Be here.

Content (behind the curtain) tidbits:

Blogging is generally a glorified journal-writing experience, which means that people tend to write what they want when they want with no obligation to write anything else.  For the last couple of years we've been working on solidifying a way to provide daily, regular content, and the Series Previews (which we started to do back in '07, and regularly in '08) is just one example of that. 

This year, with the Series Previews, GameCasts, Game Recaps, and so-on, there will likely be minimally two-to-three new articles on the site every single day during the course of the season.  And while we will be presenting the facts (as we see them), it will remain our mission to actually be fun and have fun while doing it.  So don't expect this blog to change, we're just working to ensure that we're even more consistent in what we do.

Oh, and there will still be silly, obnoxious, and often nonsensical WTF?!-evoking photoshops, too. 

NLDS Series Preview: Cubs vs. Dodgers

While doing a guest spot on the podcast of LA Times journos and bloggers The Kamenetzky Brothers I thought of this analogy: many are invited to the dance, but only one gets crowned king.  The playoffs are not easy, not for anybody be they as free-wheeling as the Rays, as experienced as the Red Sox, or as burdened with pressure as the Dodgers and Cubs are. The following games will be stressful.

If you're like me, you've been reading alllll the news stories.  You've seen on ESPN a headline with Cubs hugging, reading "All The Way?"  You've read the Jayson Stark article predicting a Cubs World Championship.  You've seen the Rick Reilly piece in which he serves as a "Cubs buzzkill."  You've been over to the Tribune and seen all the stories there.  You've scoured the boards and the blogs and encountered wave after wave of bravado, bluster, and underlying Cubbie Angst.

Funny thing about most of it: they're looking at the prize, not the obstical.  People are so busy asking "will the Cubs win the Series" that they are overlooking the hurdle in our path: the LA Dodgers.  But if you visit this blog - and obviously you do, or else you wouldn't be reading this - you have now seen the following:

Here Come the Dodgers - by Jason, giving us our first look at the Cubs' first round opponent.

Lou Ain't Gonna Change Now - by Rob, speculating that Senior Piniella has a game plan that he will stick to regarding the lineups and his insistance on moving guys around.

NLDS Scouting Report: Chicago Cubs - by Me (say it!)

A Look At The Odds - by Colin, who had to bring math into it.  But it's ok - turns out the Cubs are favored to win.

NLDS Scouting report: LA Dodgers - by Me (say it again!)

A Look at the Lineups (take one) - by Colin regarding the likely lineups to be used by Torre and Piniella.

Playoff Roster Set - by Colin, who reports that everybody's favorite Hoff just couldn't power his way onto the post season roster.

Projecting the First Round Pitchers (part one) - by Colin, who notes that, although all of the factors have yet to be considered, Derek Lowe should have a slightly lower ERA than Ryan Dempster in this series.

I've Got Nothin' - by Byron, who has yet to chime in on what is to come.  (Byron is the busiest Rider, seconded by Jason.)

Very Superstitious - by Kyle, who reports that if he accidentally says the Cubs will win the World Series, he must immediately walk outside, turn in three circles, and spit.

And none of that even counts the various things on the reader blog.

In other words, we are clearly worked up about this series and have been feeding you a lot of content.  I'm sure it will continue, even if the Cubs fall off a cliff and we end up wallowing in a pit of misery/despair/agony.  But I don't think that's going to happen, and let's take a look at the reasons why:

The Pitching Matchups:

Ryan Dempster vs. Derek Lowe: Both are effective pitchers who have done admirably well this year.  Lowe has pitched insanely well, especially since the start of September, although his epic numbers come against such winners as the D-Backs, Padres, Pirates, and Giants (twice).  Dempster is pitching at home, where he's won 14 games, in front of a crowd that will be brimming with energy, with an offense behind him that has set the league on fire.  He's also the right kind of idiot to start Game One - he won't break under the pressure.  Advantage Cubs.

Carlos Zambrano vs. Chad Billingsly: So far this season, The Big Moose has scared, awed, and scared us some more.  But here's the thing - Carlos was born for this kind of situation.  Contrary to his reputation, he's pitched well in big games, and he easily kept the 'backs at bay last October.  While his arm is a concern, some would argue that he's pitched poorly due to the sudden death of his grandmother in September.  If Carlos is doubly inspired to win it for the Gipper*, then the Dodgers are screwed.  Billingsly, meanwhile, has pitched well this year but isn't much better than average on the road.  Plus he's already eaten a loss at Wrigley this year.  Advantage: Carlos ... er, Cubs.

Rich Harden vs. Hiroki Kuroda: Harden has been giving up too many walks in his most recent starts, but he's still not given up a lot of runs.  He's the kind of pitcher who's good enough to walk 10 guys in a game but surrender only a few hits, resulting in low scores by his opponent.  Non Cub fans are banking on Harden's shoulder exploding - hell, maybe it'll happen sometime, but I don't think it'll occur in Game 3.  Kuroda has put up decent ERA numbers, but he doesn't throw a lot of innings and it's been reported that he is still depressed that Hiro and Ando have become parodies of themselves.  But even if he was at the top of his game, he'd struggle to outduel an average Harden performance.  Advantage: Cubs.

Ted Lilly vs. Greg Maddux (or, if desperate, Lowe on short rest): Ted Lilly is much, much better than his 4.09 ERA suggests.  He is without a doubt the best Game 4 pitcher in baseball.  Greg Maddux is an oldie, is sometimes a goodie, but even if he was on my team he wouldn't be my fifth choice to start a playoff game at this stage in his career.  Advantage: Cubs.

The Bullpen:

Closer vs. Closer: Cubs closer Kerry Wood has displayed a tendency to allow runners on before buckling down and beating his opponents.  Consequently, he finished the year with 34 saves in 40 tries.  More importantly, he's only blown 1 save since July 9th, and is 10 for his last 11.  The Dodgers closer will probably be Jon Broxton who has 8 blown saves in 22 tries, including 3 in his last 12.  He was hands-down dominating in September, but in spite of his numbers I wouldn`t trust him in a close playoff game.  Advantage: Cubs.

The Rest of the Pen: The Dodgers have a number of 8th inning options and, all together, they are stronger here than the Cubs.  However, Chicago has 2 options and 2 options only for the 7th and 8th innings - Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija, and that`s really all they need.  Behind them is Sean Marshall, who has an ERA below 3 as a reliever this year.  I will fairly give the advantage to the Dodgers, but despite Cotts and Howry lingering in the pen, it's not as much an advantage as some might say it is.  Advantage: Dodgers.

The Starting Lineup:

C: Geovany Soto vs. Russell Martin.  Martin's not a bad catcher, but he's not getting MVP consideration as a rookie.  'nuff said.  Advantage: Cubs.

1B: Derrek Lee vs. James Loney. Lee is a shell of his former self.  He hit into a ridiculous 27 double plays in 623 at bats this year.  But, uh, Loney hit into 25 in 595 at bats.  Loney's a good player, but he can't do what Lee can do, and Lee's one major weakness is shared by Loney.  Advantage: Cubs.

2B: Mike Fontenot/Mark DeRosa vs. Blake DeWitt/Jeff Kent. DeRosa may very well be one of the reasons the Cubs win this thing.  His versatility and ability to hit the ball cannot be under-weighed.  Fontenot has had a breakout year in a part-time role.  He's had some huge, clutch hits.  Blake DeWitt wouldn't crack the starting lineup on the Cubs, and Jeff Kent has begun to show his age this season.  Advantage: Cubs.

3B: Aramis Ramirez vs. Casey Blake: Hmm.  Clutch player with epic homerun power vs. journeyman who's struggled to hit NL pitching?  Let me think about this.... Advantage: Cubs.

SS: Ryan Theriot vs. Raffy Furcal: Theriot is a .300 hitter with good plate discipline and limited range at short.  Raffy Furcal has hit the ball exceptionally well when healthy this year, but since he came back from his season-long injury on September 24th, he's batting a meager .222.  If I was convinced of his health, I'd vote Furcal.  But until he lights it up for a while, it's Advantage: Cubs.

LF: Alfonso Soriano vs. Manny Ramirez: It's actually hard to say who's been more important to their respected teams.  The Cubs are barely better than .500 in games without the Fonz.  The Dodgers don't have a horse in this race without Manny.  Defensively, both players scare their respected team's fans, but the Fonz has a cannon arm.  In 552 at bats, Ramirez hit 37 homeruns and drove in 121.  If he'd had 552 at bats, Soriano would've hit 35 homeruns and driven in 92.  I actually think I'd rather have the Fonz, but for the sake of those who would accuse me of bias: Advantage: Dodgers.

CF: Jim Edmonds/Reed Johnson vs. Matt Kemp: I know dick about Matt Kemp, but I can say this: he's better defensively than Edmonds.  He'd have to be Jose Canseco to be worse.  He's also a solid hitter with good - but not fantastic - overall numbers.  The Cubs would not be where they are today without Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson.  Edmonds has more homeruns than Kemp in half the playtime, and Reed has better facial hair and a higher batting average.  Advantage: Cubs.

RF: Kosuke Fukudome/Reed Johnson/Mark DeRosa vs. Andre Ethier: The Cubs might play a trio of guys out in right for this series.  Defensively, you won't find a better guy than Fukudome who, by the way, is batting .25 points higher vs. lefties but hit all his homeruns against righties.  If Fooky can't cut it offensively, then Reed and DeRo both have the gib to do the job.  Eithier, meanwhile, may be the second best bat in the Dodgers lineup - and he hit 20 homeruns this year.  Based on the versatility and the matchup scenarios, it's Advantage: Cubs.

Bench: The Cubs reportedly have a weak bench, but I really don't see it.  On any given game, bench stars may include either Reed Johnson or Jim Edmonds, Felix Pie (batting .300 since his September callup), Mike Fontenot or Kosuke Fukudome (both can hit, even if Fooky hasn't shown it in a ... well, a long while), and even Henry Blanco and Ronny Cedeno can hit the ball better than most guys in their roles.  Not to mention the Cubs have one pinch hitter who's batting .337 on the season and has more homeruns than 4 guys who will likely be on LA's bench: Carlos ZambranoAdvantage: Cubs.

So, let's look at this objectively: It' Cubs 13, Dodgers 2.  Oh, and while the Cubs have that whole "burden of history" crap on their shoulders, the Dodgers have a long drought as well coupled with a frustrated fan base.  They're playing with pressure, too.  The Cubs could - and perhaps should - easily sweep.  I think the Dodgers will win 1 in LA.  But the strength of pitching and the superior offense of the Cubs will be too much for LA - or any team - to overcome.  So, if you wanted an official Goat Riders prediction ...

Cubs win, folks.  Get ready to be hung over, it's going to be a fun weekend.

P.S. I'm still planning to gamecast tonight, although I haven't bothered to tell my fiancee about those plans (can't wait to see how much she's looking forward to be neglected for a computer).  I'll try to update after every score and half inning.  I hope some of you will join me.  Go Cubs.

Series Preview - Cubs at Brewers; GET ON WITH IT!!!

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:

Lineup Stuff

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.

Pitching Match-Ups:

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.

Series Preview: Cubs at Mets

Four years ago this week, one of the best Cub teams of my lifetime stopped for a series in New York en route to what appeared to be their first consecutive post season appearance in almost 100 years.  The Cubs were in control of their own destiny, they were looking solid and ready, and then the Mets ripped out their effing hearts and stomped all over them on consecutive days.  I saw both of those games in person.  The Cubs went 1-7 in their last 8 and miss the playoffs that year.

This year, the pressure is off, although the Cubs will still be taking on the Mets with the intent of beating them into a pulp.  In fact, the Cubs are now playing the part of spoilers, as their final 7 games will be against teams that are competing for a spot in the post season.

Personally, I find the whole playoff picture so bloody confusing that it makes me dizzy, so I'll refer instead to the writings of Desipiot TJ, who summed it up like this:

Mets (86-69)
4 vs. Cubs    2-2
3 vs. Marlins 0-3
Total 88-74

Phils (88-68)
3 vs. ATL     0-3
3 vs. WAS    0-3
Total 88-74

Marlins (81-74)
1 @ CIN    1-0
3 @ WASH  3-0
3 @ Mets  3-0
Total 88-74

Brewers (85-71)
3 vs. PIT   2-1
3 vs. Cubs 1-2
TOTAL 88-74

Astros (82-73)
3 vs. CIN  3-0
3 vs. ATL 2-1
1 vs. CUBS 1-0
TOTAL 88-74

Dodgers (81-75)
3 vs. SD  2-1
3 @ SF   0-3
TOTAL 83-79

D-backs (78-77)
4 @ STL   2-2
3 vs. COL  3-0
TOTAL 83-79

I guess anything is possible.  Me, I want to see the Mets make the playoffs for one simple reason: wherever they go, ambulances follow.  So many Met players are hurt that I don't see them as a serious threat in October.  However - you knew there'd be a however, right? - if the Mets are the wild card, they'd play the Cubs in the first round, and I would fear for Ron Santo's health.

Enough pre-amble.  Let's get to it:

Monday, September 22nd - Jason Marquis (10-9, 4.39 ERA) vs. Jon Niese (1-0, 4.09 ERA)

Jason Marquis is doing more than simply battling to win more games than he loses in 2008.  He's also ... battling for his soul.  (Sorry, couldn't help myself).  Actually, Marquis is probably on the bubble to be the guy in Lou's post season bullpen who Lou turns to when the Cubs are either winning by 8, or losing by 8, but never in between.  He faces stiff competition from Bob Howry for the gig, though.

Jon Niese is a left handed 21-year-old who the Mets are apparently turning to out of desperation.  Niese very well might be a respectable starter someday - he's 34-26 in his minor league career with a 3.72 ERA, and in 7 career starts at Triple A, the youngster is 5-1 with a 3.40 ERA.  If this was 2004-2007, I'd be worried, because the Cubs historically get killed by lefty starters they've never faced before.  But this is '08 and Niese is batting practice.

Tuesday, September 23rd - Rich Harden (10-2, 2.03 ERA) vs. Johan Santana (14-7, 2.65 ERA)

Rich Harden has been exactly as advertised.  He's a front-line pitcher with game-changing stuff and a questionable arm.  He's also in all likelihood the Cubs #3 starter in the post season.  He'll be facing Johan Santana, the Mets ace.  It's a tough day for the Mets when their ace pitcher is squaring off in his home park against another team's #3 guy and yet he's the under-dog.  But Santana should keep his chin up.  Harden is likely to be allowed only 70 or 80 pitches.  On some days, he won't get out of the 4th with that much restraint.

Wednesday, September 24th - Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.77 ERA) vs. Oliver Perez (10-7, 4.10 ERA)

Oh, Carlos, how you tease us.  With you, teams either score 8 or they score 0, there's no middle ground.  Consequently, you've got my riddled with jitters.

This is likely the Big Moose's last tune-up start before the playoffs.  He's done well when limited to pitch counts in the past - very well, in fact - and I suspect he'll do well this time, too.  How well probably will determine if he's the #2 or #1 pitcher in the post season.

Oliver Perez is not exactly a frighteningly good pitcher.  However, he'll be a guy with a mission on Wednesday, as the Mets are fighting for a playoff spot.  I suspect he'll pitch better than his numbers convey.

Thursday, September 25th - Ted Lilly (16-9, 4.17 ERA) vs. Pedro Martinez (5-6, 5.50 ERA)

Once upon a time, Pedro Martinez was awesome.  Lucky for the Cubs, that time is long passed.

Also once upon a time, the Cubs were aching for a reliable left-handed starter.  In fact, it was akin to the Santo Curse.  Much as the team went three decades between good third basemen, the Cubs also went just as long between talented lefty starters. Lilly has worked on changing that.  And, while he probably won't be with the Cubs for more than a few more seasons, he's already done something that we haven't seen since before Nixon resigned from office - he's won 15+ games in back-to-back seasons for the Cubs as a lefty. It sure would be awesome if he finished the year with 17, and it's a strong possibility on Thursday.

Predictions: It could go either way.  The Mets are a team with a lot on the line.  The Cubs are a team with nothing left to prove.

There's actually a fine balance here.  Lou wants to save his starters for the playoffs, and so they will be unlikely to pitch past the 5th.  But he also can't be looking to over-use his playoff relievers.  I suspect we'll see a lot of non-essential pitchers this series, and that may effect how the Cubs do in the wins column.  However, if the Mets press, then Chicago just might bury them right there in Shea.

Considering that the Mets would be Chicago's first round opponent if they won the wild card, I have a feeling that the Cubs will try to set the tone early in the series by pounding on them.  At least, that's what I hope will happen.  There should be no free rides in baseball, and if New York is going to see the post season, they should have to earn it.

But hey - if they do indeed face Harden, Zambrano, and Lilly, even if in a semi-limited capacity, then it won't be easy.  Ultimately, that's all I ask.

Update: Looks like I'm already wrong.  The Cubs are moving Harden to Thursday's game, and Sean Marshall will be starting on Tuesday.  So, uhm, go Cubs.

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