NLDS Preview: Cubs vs. Dodgers
The Cubs come into the postseason with a team that makes for a study in contrasts when it comes to its assets: a broad and deep collection of hitters to attack the other team's pitchers, balanced against a stars-and-scrubs pitching staff that runs perhaps no more than six men deep before trouble arises.
They're matched up with a Dodgers team that, although it took a while, may finally be a unit, the value of whose parts in a short series probably exceeds the team's production over a whole season. With the seeming likelihood that
The Dodgers may have finished the season with the league's eighth-best record, but their inability to field their initially-designed team and then a set squad for any extended period of time makes it hard to evaluate them as a team as weak as their 84-78 record suggests. Using
In terms of
If there's a "surprise" to some of you in the Cubs lineup, it might be the absence of Japanese import
That's not to say there aren't items of concern, above and beyond DeRosa's injury. Since a red-hot April, Lee has been struggling to maintain even mediocrity as a first baseman, hitting only .275/.344/.415 since. Add in Lee's ranking among the leaders in
The Dodgers' lineup radically altered its fortunes with the
The concerns with L.A.'s lineup are related to some of the points noted with the Cubs. Martin's real problem in the second half was that his power went away: Hitting .260/.371/.336 is serviceable, but if he wasn't hitting with authority, people are going to wonder whether GM
If there's an odd, fun factoid to ponder, it isn't often that you might be able to argue that two potent offenses are so strong top to bottom that their respective first basemen might be their weakest links, but that's the funny thing about these two lineups -- it's almost true. Edmonds' numbers are his combined totals with the Cubs and Padres, which take his overall Cub numbers (.301 EqA, 23.1
Whether or not DeRosa can go, expect Fukudome to spot-start against
Now that Torre's belatedly sorted out that
Because the Cubs and Dodgers finished their season series in early June, it's hard to know what to expect.
While there's still a question over whether or not
Effectively, what this really means is that however great the potential for the Cubs' starters to spin dominating outings -- if Harden and Zambrano are at their best and if Dempster keeps on keeping on in the Friendly Confines -- the problem is that they might absolutely need for them to be, because the Dodgers have a hot trio well-equipped to attack a righty-heavy lineup, and almost equally likely to fashion a dominant outing or two of their own.
The Dodgers might be the team that lost its closer for most of the second half, but it's the Cubs whose second-half performance has been a major problem. As Jay Jaffe noted two weeks ago, positive pen performance for the Piniellans was a product of the season's first part. In the first half the Cubs' pen finished an adequate 12th in the majors in FRA; in the second they fell to 20th. In both the first half and the second, they had
For the Cubs, this is very clearly a stars-and-scrubs setup. If they wind up trying to win games and matchups with
In contrast the Dodgers have the depth and the talent in the pen to win a game in the middle frames, and can attack opponents with a broad assortment of weapons. Whether Wade's curveball and uncanny ability to work with men on base,
Score this a definite Cubs advantage, because
The Dodgers might be a storied franchise, but one important part of the story has been a willingness to move people around the diamond that borders on institutional, and not merely historic. Whether returning Garciaparra to short (out of desperation), trying DeWitt at second (out of desperation), or smiling their way through Manny's diffident play in left (need I repeat the obvious?), the Dodgers have been as gloriously indifferent to glove work now as they were in the Lasorda days, or even back when they were willing to make
As a true product of the '80s, Piniella is easily the more nimble manager on offense, but given the Dodgers' quality starting pitching and deep pen, he may well need to avoid losing control of games where L.A.'s pitching comes to the fore. In contrast, Torre's willingness to ride relievers hard and play a relatively set lineup may serve him well -- there's plenty of junk worth avoiding on the Dodgers' bench, and relegating formerly famous people like Garciaparra or Kent to high-leverage pinch-hitting roles might make either man a newly-minted Dodgers post-season hero. In terms of in-game tactics, neither manager is overly fancy; Torre hasn't bunted much with position players not named Pierre or Berroa, while Piniella's a bit more bunt-happy with his non-pitchers (perhaps one of the side effects of having great-hitting pitchers like Zambrano and
It's that pen which might save the Dodgers from the kind of outsized matchup that the fourth game might otherwise appear to be, because that might also spare them from attempting to start Lowe on short rest, something that has yet to produce a quality start in the four times it has been tried in the L.A. portion of his career. Nevertheless, I still see this winding up as a