Well, we’re here my friends. The playoffs. The prognosticators predicted that the Cubs would repeat as Division champions and for once, they didn’t disappoint. The question, up until yesterday afternoon’s flat fastball out of the hand of Bob Howry and into the bleachers off of Ryan Braun’s bat, was, “But who will we play?”
Behind the impossibly durable arm of CC Sabathia, pitching on three days rest for the third straight outing, the Brewers took two of three from a patchwork Cub team who fielded rookies most of the weekend. The series victory was enough for the Brewers to retake the Wildcard from the NY Metropolitans, when the Mets’ bullpen once again collapsed and they gave up back-to-back roundtrippers in the eighth of Sunday’s rubber game with the Marlins. I’m not shedding any tears for the Mets. The playoffs without the Yankees or the Mets doesn’t bother me at all.
The Beermakers now head off to Philly to take on a very hot club. The Brewers chances lie squarely in the enormous left arm of Mr. Sabathia and the enormous ego of a one Ben Sheets. But enough about the other teams.
Brewers win, Mets Lose, Cubs play the LA Dodgers.
It’s funny, I keep wanting to write (say), the Cubs are headed to LA. Again, for once, this isn’t the case. LA is headed to Chicago. Advancing to the NLCS goes through Wrigley where the Northsiders were 55–26 during the regular season. No excuses.
Piniella has two decisions to make before he sets his playoff roster. He’s already announced the rotation as Dempster, Zambrano, Harden and Lilly. Marquis is headed to the bullpen with Marshall, Cotts, Samardzija, Marmol and Wood.
I’ve had it with Howry, but he’ll probably be the last pitcher named, although at this point, I’d opt for Wuertz.
Although Wuertz lacks Howry’s control, Wuertz has an out pitch that can get the team out of jams. Yes, if you’re going to have one pitch, I’d rather have a nasty slider with varied speed than Howry’s flat fastball.
The other decision comes down to the last spot on the bench. It’s likely going to come down to Hoffpauir or Ward. This one is a tough call. Hoffpauir is clearly the better hitter, but Ward will be unfazed by the postseason and the light may turn on at the right time. I take Ward. But if Ward has a poor NLDS and the Cubs advance, look for Piniella to try Hoffpauir.
What to Expect
Now LA is a good team. A decent team. They finished just ahead of the Cubs with the best ERA in baseball. They have a good rotation for sure, but they pitch in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball and there’s no doubt that their team ERA was aided by Chavez Ravine. LA will send Lowe, Billingsley and Kuroda to the mound, all of whom are solid, but none of which strike fear in Cubbie hearts.
Offensively they finished fifth in batting average, but 13 (out of 16) in the NL in home runs. The Dodgers offense benefited greatly from the trade deadline acquisition of Manny Ramirez. Manny hit a whopping .396 with LA in 53 games with 17 HRs and 53 RBI and, he actually hit .417 off RHP. Cubs pitchers must be extremely careful with Ramirez as he is their big threat. They have five other quality bats in Ethier, Kemp, Martin and Cub-Killer Jeff Kent, but it’s the enigma that is Manny Ramirez that Cubs arms will pitch around. The old adage of not letting the other team’s best hitter beat you will certainly be adhered to in this short series.
1. Get them on, Get them over, Get them in.
The Cubs have been great at being patient at the dish this year. The first three Dodger starters will walk you, particularly Billingsley. The Cubs must score runs, especially at home to take an early lead in this series and allow the Cubs superior pitching to dominate. Both small ball-manufactured runs and the three run bomb will be necessary. We don’t need to score seven per game, but four is the magic number.
2. Don’t let Manny beat you.
As stated above, Manny is possibly one of the best hitters of our generation. He can carry an entire team on his back like Pujols. To let him beat you would be poor game management on the part of Piniella. Hold him in check and the series is over. Look for Dempster and Marmol to be huge keys in the series. I really like starting the first road game with Rich Harden, he’s familiar with Dodger stadium and the west coast and is potentially the most dominant of any pitcher on the staff.
3. Think about 2008.
Inevitably there is a ton of pressure on this storied, losing-ridden baseball club. Piniella has done a masterful job of keeping the team focused on this year and this year alone. No goats. No black cats. No Bartman. New Year, New Team. This team doesn’t freak out when they’re down in a game or a series. This attitude must continue for our Cubbies to make a serious run at the coveted World Series title.
Cubbies in 4. Cubs pitching, bullpen and home field advantage will be too much for LA. Let’s do this.