NLDS Preview: The Starters

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NLDS Preview: The Starters

. Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Lou Piniella demonstrates Dusty Baker's managerial style in 2003

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes ... FUCKING YES! The playoffs nearly are here, and our Boys in Blue are in it. Maybe it's because I grew up in the Gary Gaetti/Scott Servais/Jose Hernandez era, but no matter what our chances, I'll never take the Cubs in the playoffs for granted. Since the inception of the NLCS in 1969, we've made the playoffs in 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, and now 2008. I grew up as a young baseball fan playing little league during the 91-96 seasons. Those were lean years, and the bastards even had a labor strike during that time. In contrast, the period from 1998-2008 has been an embarassment of riches. Playoffs four times in ten years might not appeal to a Yankee fan, but it's bliss to this Cubs fan. Kerry Wood has played on four playoff teams. It looked in the '90s like I might not even live to see four playoff teams.

As part of our the unbridled bliss before The Fear sets in, we're going to bring you our NLDS previews. We'll give you our completely unqualified opinions on the battle between our deep, graceful Cubbie Blue, and the tacky, whorish Dodger Blue. Not that we're biased or anything. Today, we look at the pitching. Also, Sweet Lou is taking his Sweet Fucking Time releasing the playoff roster, so we're fairly damn speculative at this point. But we gotta do it sometime, so enjoy:

Starting Rotations

Cubs: I'm going to avoid words like "best rotation I've seen" or "strongest group in the NL," becasue last time people said that, we were salivating at the 2004 opening day rotation of Prior/Wood/Zambrano/Maddux/Clement. And we all know how that shit turned out. Save for the juxtaposition of Zambrano and Harden, the playoff rotation turned out pretty much as we predicted it.

And with that, Dempster was Harden (both a crappy pun AND a Cubs joke!)

Starting Dempster Baby in game 1 was clearly he right choice, but it puts the onus on the offense. The goateed Canuck is as steady as a surgeon's hands, but he's also going to give up hits and most likely a few runs. Taking an early 1-0, or even 4-0 lead isn't going to be a guarantee of victory, especially because we still don't know who exactly may be tasked with holding the line between the starters and Marmol/Woody. Considering that our run-scoring has been largely up or down to the level of our opponets for the past few weeks, this means a lot of antacid for this blogger. But you have to feel good about the 17-game winner on the mound for your series opener.


Carlos pitches, demonstrates scratching skills as a DJ

As we may have mentioned a few hundred times, $90 million man Carlos Zambrano offers a lot of risk and a lot of reward. Are we going to see the guy who tore through the Astros like lonely Crusaders through squires? Or is he going to derail himself and his team after a fluky hit given up or strikeout at the plate? There's no guarantee we take game 1, and if we don't, I'm officially going to be nervous as hell with Z on the rubber. If someone could guarantee me right now that he'll pitch to early season form, I'd feel a lot better about this "curse ... what curse?" business.


Harden pitches, doesn't break. Crowd breaths sigh of relief for 76th time that day

It seems sacrelige to say, but Rich Harden worries me as well. In the playoffs, there's a tendency to push your pitchers as far as they'll go. After all, having something in the tank doesn't make much sense when you're watching some other son of a biching team jump around like little girls on the mound. That should be US jumping like little girls! Anyway, should Harden find himself around 90 pitches in the 6th inning of a 3-2 game, we're placed in a tough position. Do we hand the ball to Gaudin, Samardzija, or Cottsy and pray like hell? Or do we risk our big-ticket acquisition shattering like an adorable Hummel figurine at the hands of an overzealous toddler?

Not now Rich, we've got a playoff series to win!

We can't really let him pitch every 8 days any more - there's no wiggle room in the playoffs. If he can get ahead in counts early, though, he should be able to go into the 7th, and possibly later. If this happens, pity the Dodgers. Harden may not pile up innings often, but when he can, he's a dangerous man. A good starter for the first road game.

If Lilly can find a way to do this to Derek Lowe, we should be set

So say Demp can't live up to the game 1 hype, Z strokes out on the mound like my grandfather always threatened to if we didn't shut up, or Rich Harden can only go into the 5th. Our key is ... is ... Theodore Roosevelt Lilly. The very Theodore Roosevelt Lilly that we've been giving crap to since the early-season inception of this fine blog has been our most ... sigh ... dominating starter in the last couple weeks of the season. Somewhere, somehow, he heard what we've said about him and now he's ready to take us out like a couple of Yadier Molinas. He's certainly been punching out batters like Ralph Kramden always threatened to do to Mrs. Kramden.

Wherein Ralph realizes that "to the moon" ended up meaning "crumpled on the floor, not really moving." Last episode before the ill-fated Honeymooners prison spinoff

The thing is, Ted Lilly very well may be the key to this series. He could end up with an opportunity to close it out. In a bad scenario, he could be the one pitching with our asses on the line. I'm sure both he and we would like nothing more for him not to even see the mound until the NLCS, but only idiots count on a sweep. We're glad Lilly has been in peak form lately. It's just that sometimes, when Steve and I have a couple of beers and start talking all misty-eyed about the Cubs and our eternal hope, we both have the image of Ted Lilly throwing his glove to the mound after another home run tattooed into our memories. It also seems like we've seen every single one of Ted Lilly's ill-advised two-out homers this season. We hold out hope, but we've also seen those Lifetime domestic abuse movies, and we're not going to put ourselves in a position to be hurt again.

But the motherfucker has one insane curveball when he wants to. I think most teams would drop to their knees thank Pan, the goat-god (whom all baseball executives secretly worship), for the opportunity to use Lilly as a 4th starter. Let's just hope he keeps pitching like this. Did anyone know he won 17 games? Crazy!


Oh, they think they're known for hot dogs. How cute.

Dodgers: Derek Lowe used to be a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, so I figured I would ask some die-hard Boston fans their opinion of the Dodgers ace. Due to their crack analysis I now know that Derek Lowe is "freaggin queeeeah," his delivery is "like a total douuushbag," and he may, in fact be, "a retahd." Baseball Reference adds that this 35-year old righty has a 14-11 record and a strong 3.24 ERA. He's mostly a fastball pitcher, but throws a slider about a quarter of the time and every once in awhile, when you've all been good girls and boys, will toss a changeup. He tends to go with the breaking ball when he's behind in the count, so Cubs hitters would do well to hit his fastballs early. Batters are hitting his fastball .104 points better than his slider (.190). Also, his ex-wife is named Trinka. Which means she's either a gypsy or a magical wood elf.


Pictured: Expert Panel

Past Lowe, the Dodgers haven't solidified their rotation yet. But we're probably guaranteed to see Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda. Billingsley should fall if the Cubs can be patient, because he's almost guaranteed to go to the fastball when he's behind in the count (at least 83 percent of the time). He also has a curve and a slider that he uses in equal proportion, but he doesn't trust either to even up the count. He's only giving up hits at a .233 pace, so plate discipline will be key. Also, just reading his name, I imagine that he owns a fancy tea set. You know you do, chad, you fucking tea set having sumbitch.


Billingsley's, because he is a fancy tea set having man

Kuroda pitched a complete game shut out against the Cubs at Wrigley earlier in the year, and this makes me want to train a hedgehog to attack his taint. He likes to get ahead and kill batters with his slider, but is about as hittable with either pitch. He used to play with Alfonso Soriano, which is why I think that Soriano plays outfield like a pitcher who got lost. Their abilities must have been transferred, Freaky Friday style. If Kuroda starts against Harden, it could make an interesting duel - at least, for however long they let Rich throw.

Maddux celebrates after winning career game #355

Lowe may pitch against Lilly on short rest, or we might get to see Old Man River. While I respect and admire Greg Maddux and his stellar career, nothing would delight me more than to pound the piss out of him and send the the future Hall of Famer back to his shuffleboard and Metamucil.

I stole this image from someone with more money for tickets than I

Conclusions

I'm not going to even pretend to be unbiased here. As much time as I've spent figuring out how each one of our pitchers can fall from grace and how each of theirs can channel the spirit of Cy Young, I think our rotation has the potential to dominate a short series. Dempster needs run support, Zambrano needs to chill the fuck out, Harden needs to stop giving batters 2-0 and 3-0 counts, and Lilly needs to keep doing whatever it is he's going, up to and including eating the hearts of murdered drifters in order to gain their strength.

I spend my day at my desk, doing work that has next to nothing to do with baseball. Then I go home and leave for non-baseball related grad school. The remaining time, I fill with baseball - I might thank Pan the goat god (should I fulfill dreams of being a baseball executive) that my girlfriend loves baseball as well, because it really makes that whole obsession thing easier for me to succumb to. So I'm not going to tell you who has "the statistical edge," or how many games this series is going to go. I'm not a professional - just an amateur with a side of mania who wants this to be The Year. Of course I think we should win - what else is new?

Now the nervousness sets in. The ever present Fear that this year is just going to be like 84, 03, or ... ack! ... 07. I don't have an "It's Gonna Happen" sign - I have a "I Really, Really, Hope It's Going to Happen. Oh No, Don't Put Fucking Howry In .... Please?" sign. Or at least I did until the ushers told me it was an inappropriate sentiment. And not long after comes the superstition. Which should be fun.

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