In 2008, the Chicago Cubs' mindset was about winning series.
It seemed every interview with a Cubs player included the phrase, “We’re just trying to win the series and go from there.”
Well, the 2009 Cubs appear to have the same mindset and followed through with that plan after taking two of three from the Houston Astros.
The Cubs will now look to do the same this weekend as they travel north to face division-rival Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers are currently 1-1 on the very young season with one game remaining in their opening series against the San Francisco Giants. After facing the Giants at 7:05 EST tonight, the Brewers will fly back to Milwaukee for their home opening on Friday afternoon.
These two teams faced each other sixteen times last season, and the Cubs managed a 9-7 record against the Beermakers. In 2008, the Cubs won the National League Central for the second strait year and the Brewers made the playoffs as well, by winning the National League Wild Card. While the 2009 version of the Brewers may have many familiar names to Cub fans, don’t think this is the same team as a year ago.
The Brewers hired former Oakland A's manager Ken Macha to lead this club after Ned Yost’s meltdown during the stretch run last season. Macha guided the A's to two AL West titles while at the helm in Oakland, and the Brewers are obviously hoping he brings the same to Milwaukee.
Offensively, the Brewers can be very explosive. Here’s their lineup:
1. Rickie Weeks 2B
2. Corey Hart RF
3. Ryan Braun LF
4. Prince Fielder 1B
5. J.J. Hardy SS
6. Mike Cameron CF
7. Bill Hall 3B
8. Jason Kendall C
The Brewers will no doubt get production from Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Corey Hart to a lesser extent. To me, the key to the Brewers offense will be how much Rickie Weeks and Mike Cameron produce.
In 2008, Weeks batted .234 with 14 HRs, 46 RBIs, and a .740 OPS from the leadoff spot. Cameron batted .243 with 25 HRs, 70 RBIs, and a .809 OPS. The Brew Crew will need those two to have good years to score enough runs to help out their suspect pitching staff.
C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets are not walking though that door. The 2009 Milwaukee starting staff consists of Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper, Manny Parra, and Dave Bush.
Quite honestly, none of them concern you if your team faces them. Gallardo is the ace and clearly possesses the best stuff. He was injured for most of last season, but dazzled during his 2007 season by going 9-5 in 17 starts with a 3.67 ERA.
The Milwaukee bullpen received a bit of a makeover as well. The dreadful Eric Gagne is gone, as is Solomon Torres. The Brewers did sign all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman during the offseason, but he is currently on the disabled list with a strained oblique.
Signing Hoffman should bring stability to the end of games, but the Brewers must get the ball to him with a lead first. Their pen is full of question marks, with the likes of Todd Coffey, Jorge Julio, and Mitch Stetter.
Milwaukee will hit enough to win some games, but whether or not their pitching will come through is the best question. I’ve got them finishing fourth in the NL Central this year because I don’t believe their pitching will deliver, but that’s why they play the games.
Let’s take a look at the probables:
Game One - 4:05 pm EST, TV - WGN
Rich Harden (2008 5-1, 1.77 ERA with the Cubs) vs. Braden Looper (2008 12-14, 4.16 ERA)
Rich Harden gets the ball for the first time this year for what is hoped to be as healthy a season as possible. We all know Harden’s shaky health history, but he feels good and plans on making 20-25 starts this season. When he’s out there, he’s typically one of the best in the game.
He has not showed much velocity this spring, but has worked on location and changing speeds. We’ll see if the work has payed off on Friday afternoon.
Braden Looper signed a one-year deal with the Brewers during the off season after starting for the Cardinals in 2008. Looper is admittedly behind schedule, as he pulled a muscle near his rib cage and did not make a start in Spring until March 26. His role for the Brewers is to be around .500 and eat innings.
Advantage: Cubs (strong)
Game Two - 7:05 pm EST, TV - CSN Chicago
Carlos Zambrano (1-0 1.50 ERA) vs. Dave Bush (0-0 18.00 ERA)
The Cubs chose not to go withNno. 5 starter Sean Marshall due to today’s offday and the desire to keep Big Z on schedule. Zambrano pitched very well on Opening Day and got his first win of 2009.
The last time Zambrano pitched in Miller Park, he no-hit the Astros. I’m sure the Cubs will take a similar result from Big Z on Saturday.
Dave Bush pitched an inning of relief on Opening Day and gave up two runs on three hits against the San Francisco Giants. He’ll make his first start of 2009 on Saturday. He doesn’t have great stuff and relys solely on location and changing speeds.
Advantage - Cubs (strong)
Game Three - 8:05 EST, TV - ESPN
Ryan Dempster (0-0 3.00 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (0-1 13.50 ERA)
Ryan Dempster will look to get his first win of 2009 on Sunday Night Baseball on the four letter network. Dempster pitched well in a no-decision on Tuesday, giving up two runs over six innings.
Jeff Suppan got rocked on Opening Day and will definitely look to rebound while making his first home start. Suppan gave up six earned runs on six hits over four innings. He’ll obviously need to be better against a solid Cubs lineup.
Advantage - Cubs (strong)