thecubsfan.com

the obligatory playoff preview

Oct
01

I’m with the those who say playoff baseball is as much random chance as anything else. I don’t believe it takes anything away from the champions, because everyone has a chance to the rules of the game before they play it, but it’s different enough from the regular season that you shouldn’t be surprised when the team that struggles to make it in the playoffs succeeds or the one with the great record falls, and quick.

For most of the second half of this season, I’ve been worried about the Cubs being the latter. The 2008 Cubs regular season was the best in my lifetime; they surpassed the ’84 Cubs sometime in August, and the other teams aren’t close. As much as I enjoyed that, I kept thinking back to another Lou team, the 2001 Marniers, and how it all came crashing down in a blink of an eye. Regular season success doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Most Wins, NL
2007: 90 (Colorado, Arizona)
2006: 97 (Mets)
2005: 100 (St. Louis)
2004: 105 (St. Louis)
2003: 101 (Atlanta)
2002: 101 (Atlanta)
2001: 93 (Houston)
2000: 97 (San Francisco)
1999: 103 (Atlanta)
1998: 106 (Atlanta)

In the previous ten years, only the 99 Braves, the 04 Cardinals and the 07 Rockies made it to the World Series. Accounting for last year’s tie, there was a 27.5% random chance the best team makes it out the NL. 30% did, which doesn’t say much for being the best team.

I’ve had these numbers in the back of my head for a few months, and visions of Webb, Haren and RJ shutting the Cubs down just as easily as last year. Thankfully, Arizona took care of themselves so the Cubs wouldn’t have to try, but that doens’t mean I’m not fearful of being crushed even harder this year.

At least I was, until the series in Milwaukee against Houston. The Astros had plenty of excuses (some valid) for their performance, but the way the Cubs absolutely crushed them while breaking away from the division. They Cubs were so dominant when they need to be, they seem significantly better than the rest of the NL teams. The Brewers and the Phillies had to fight to make it in the last week and the Dodgers would’ve been fifth in the NL Central. The Cubs are a step ahead, a big enough step to outweigh the numbers.

Maybe even a big enough step ahead to avoid all the expecations, all the hype (each paper will have a story a day about a possible Chicago/Chicago World series, and it’ll be five stories if they make it to the LCSs) and everyone trying to capitalize and monetize the Cubs success. I love baseball, I love the Cubs, but I know I’m going to hate a billion things going on around it the next three months.

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Look, a break. Like this thing is coherent or focused at all.

1: Dempster vs Lowe

Derek Lowe’s line for the last 7 games:

44.1 IP
27 H
4 R
8 BB
27 K
0.81 ERA

If the Cubs can steal this game, this series is going to be a rout. It turns to the Cubs advantage for Game 2-4, but this as tough a start as the Cubs are going to get.

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Game 65: Cubs 10 – Braves 5

Jun
27

Cubs 41-24
Braves 32-33

POTG: C Soto (HR, 2H, 2R, 3 RBI)
Runner Up: LF Soriano (2H, SB, CS, IBB, 2R, 2BB), 1B D Lee (HR, 2 RBI), 3B A Ram (3 R, H, RBI, 3 BB), RF Fukudome (2 H, SB, R, RBI), 2B DeRosa (2 H, RBI), CF Johnson (H, 2 RBI, SF)

Good old destruction. The thing about Lilly’s starts during this stretch is you’re almost always going to have a chance at a comeback, because he’s going to give up a multi-run home run to start the game, and then hold the line there.

The Cubs got plenty of offense from a lot of the lineup. It helped a lot that Tom Glavine’s got very little left and probably shouldn’t have stuck around for this season. It got a little intresting when Howry got poked around enough to give up two rounds and make it a game, but the Braves bullpen is not a strength and Soto was able to bust the game wide open.

Eyre’s one out appearance to stop the Braves produced this fanastic set of quotes:

“I didn’t even know who I faced,” Eyre said. “By the time I got to the mound, Geo was talking to [ Aramis Ramirez] when I go, ‘Hey, who are we facing here?’ He goes, ‘[Ruben] Gotay.’ But it wasn’t Gotay. He came up the next inning. I don’t know who I faced. I wasn’t paying attention. I was trying to make sure I got an out.”

Good thing we’re all professionals here. Eyre’s “scoreless inning streak” is such a joke, it’s been nice that it’s been barely mentioned. Eyre’s been good this season, but he’s also been in for less than an inning most of the time – tough to give up runs when you’re not facing more than one batter. If anything, it’s a testament to not giving up base runners – only five so far this season.

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Game 64: Cubs 3 – Dodgers 1

Jun
27

POTG: RP MARMOL (1.2 IP, 2 runners marrooned to preserve the lead)
Runner Up: SP Jason Marquis (6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2K), 2B Mark DeRosa (3 H, 2 R, 2 RBI, HR)

It was really three guys providing all the effort – DeRosa was responsible for the offense, Marquis had an usually good starting effort, and Marmol escaped the jam and set up an easy save for Wood. I could’ve gone with any of those guys, but Marmol’s outs felt like the biggest ones of the game.

The problem with doing this so delayed is I can’t remember the things which really stick out to me. This was the Sunday night game, but was it the “Al Oliver” game? I lost my mind for about 15 minutes after that conversation. I loathe that broadcasting team.

Last 16 games
3 Soriano
2 D Lee
2 Z!
2 Edmonds
1 Dempster
1 Gallagher
1 The Riot
1 Lilly
1 Fukudome
1 none
1 Marmol

Season Total
9 Z!
7 Soriano
6 D Lee
5 Soto
3 Fukudome
3 Marquis
3 Dempster
3 Lilly
2 Fontenot
2 A Ram
2 Johnson
2 The Riot
2 Marmol
2 no one
2 Edmonds
1 Lieber
1 Hart
1 Hill
1 Cedeno
1 Lieber
1 Howry
1 Wuertz
1 Gallagher

Game 63: Dodgers 7 – Cubs 3

Jun
27

Cubs 39-24
Dodgers 30-32

POTG: LF Soriano (HR)
Runner Up: none

I choose to remember this game as Z going along fine, and then an error unfairly deraling things. It totally couldn’t be his fault, that’s impossible. 13 hits is surely an acceptable number.

I just talked down Maddux as a pickup, but how about Lowe? He’s looked pretty effective both times the Cubs have faced him, and the Dodgers are going nowhere. He’s not a long term solution and he’s got a rep for not handling pressure well, but he’s still in his contract year on a team that seems to be scuffling and may not want to keep him around (especially since his price will surely be going up.) A groundball pitcher in Wrigley always seems like a good idea.

Offense was really spread out and not so great. Alas.

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Game 62: Dodgers 3 – Cubs 0

Jun
27

POTG: none
Runner Up: none

I’m sure I watched this game. But I was so tired a this point, I may have just been staring at a blank screen for 3 hours. I recall nothing happened, and the box score indicates that’s pretty much right. I’m no scientist, but you’re not going win many games with 4 hits and no walks. Kuroda was just plain awesome.

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Game 61: Cubs 5 – Dodgers 4

Jun
26

POTG: RF Fukudome (HR, 2H, 2RBI, BB)
Runner Up: SS The Riot (3 H, 2B, R, RBI), CF Edmonds (2 H), 2B DeRosa (2 H, HR, BB)

This was a bit of a crazy finish. Just like Dempster, Wood’s control is always going to be the worry spot for his saves. Of

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Game 53: Cubs 2 – Dodgers 1

Jun
19

Dodgers 26-26
Cubs 32-21

POTG: SP Z!! (8 IP, 6H, ER, 4 BB, 3 K, QS)
Runner Up: LF Soriano (2 H, RBI), RF Fukudome (2 H), PH Fontenot (2B, R)

3 straight one run performances by the pitching staff didn’t really get as much play as I think it should’ve. Again, the Dodgers aren’t great, but that sort of consistent domiance is something remarkable.

It’s tough to write about this game three weeks later while pretending I’m not writing about it three weeks later. Z! threw 130 very effective pitches, and I totally supported leaving him in at the time. He did take some hits in the inning, but they were all weak shots – it wasn’t like he was knocked around (they were all weak singles, a couple which should’ve been fielded) and he didn’t seem to be pitching tired. Plus, Carlos’ super endurance is one of the things that makes Calros the extraordinarly pitcher he is – if you’re shying away from using that, you’re taking away some of his value.

That said, if it turns out an MRI shows something wrong with his shoulder, no one ever pitches 120 pitches again. EVER.

Despite Carlo’s peformance, the Cubs don’t pull it out unless they sneak out that run int he 9th. This was not Takashi Saito at his best, and the Cubs realized it and took advantage of it. Walk, Lee forcing a long at bat, walk, Fukudome getting a big hit and Soto getting just enough of it to tie it up. Once the Cubs got that run, it seemed certain the Cubs were going to win that game. It’s not that they deserved it more, but this is one of those seasons where they’re keep ending being the 22% chance that pulls out the win instead of the 78% that doesn’t.

Game 52: Cubs 3 – Dodgers 1

Jun
19

Dodgers 26-25
Cubs 31-21

POTG: SP Sean Gallagher (7 IP, 4 H, R, 2 BB, 3 K)
Runner Up: 3B A Ram (2 H, RBI), RF Fukudome (2 H, 2B, R, RBI), C Soto (2 H, 2B)

Having the same score makes this process all that much quicker.

This was the start that moved Gallagher from “fill-in starter” to “in the rotation till he screwed it up.” The Dodgers lineup doesn’t impress me in person, so I can’t go too crazy about this performance as meaning Gallagher’s great, but he definitely earned the regular spot.

I’m not sure it’s on purpose, but between Zambrano’s downturn in Ks, Dempster not being really big on them, and Gallagher’s numbers here, the Cubs may be losing their grip on the annual pitching K leadership. The bullpen is doing their share, but there’s less of them as things go on.

Another game where the Cubs didn’t have a lot of power (2 doubles of the 11 hits), but just enough to get 3 runs. It’d be a help if Edmonds added to it a little bit.

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Game 51: Cubs 3 – Dodgers 1

Jun
19

Dodgers 26-24
Cubs 30-21

POTG: SP Ryan Dempster (7 IP, H, R, 3 BB, 3 K., W [6])
Runner Up: 1B D Lee (HR, 2 RBI), 3B A Ram (2 H, HR)

TWENTY ONE GAMES TO CATCH UP. No problem.

The transformation of Ryan Dempster into a slightly poor man’s Brandon Webb, at least at home, is still a bit inexplicable at this point. Ryan’s not missing bats – he actually had less swinging misses than Billingsley despite throwing nearly 50% more pitches. He’s just getting ground balls to a defense that generally gets to enough of them to make it work.

Not especially sharp sharp perfomance by Howry, who just barely snuck out of trouble here. BR’s Win Perecentage charts had the game being about a toss up when he loaded the bases with one out in the eight. Nice he got out of it, would be nicer if he didn’t get into it.

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Game 139: Dodgers 7 – Cubs 4

Sep
07

Dodgers 74-66
Cubs 71-68

POTG: LF Soriano (2 HR, 4 RBI)
Runner Up: 1B Derrek Lee (2 H), 2B Mike Fontenot (2 H, R)

THAT SUCKED. I hate Andre Ethier.

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