October Looming: Chicago Cubs Playoff Preview

Scott MaloneAnalyst ISeptember 20, 2008

Next year is here.

If you follow baseball at all, even remotely, you most likely have seen how good this Cubs team is.

Led by a strong starting rotation, a great bullpen, and an offense that can put up runs, the Cubs have the best team in the National League. In fact, record-wise, they have the second best team in the league behind only those Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Offensively, they have scored the second most runs in the Major Leagues with 815, behind only the Texas Rangers, and as a team have hit a fourth best .277, with a second best .354 OBP, and have the second most walks with 607.

Their pitching staff has been the real story. They have the fourth best ERA in the league with a 3.85 mark, and have allowed the fewest hits in the Majors with just 1266. They also lead the league in strikeouts with 1203.

The starting staff has been carried by Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster all season, with Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and Rich Harden also making contributions.  

The bullpen has been great, thanks to a trio of flamethrowers to finish off games. Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Marmol, and Kerry Wood have all been fantastic, with Sean Marshall, Neal Cotts, Bob Howry, and Chad Gaudin also making key contributions.

While this Cubs team looks special, it is common knowledge that they have not had much recent playoff success.

However, in a weak National League, the Cubs have a chance with which they could make a deep run into October.

With the Brewers struggling, after having lost Ben Sheets for possibly the remaining stretch run, it is looking like the Cubs will face either the Philadelphia Phillies or the New York Mets.

The Cubs will have the edge of home field until their elimination or the world series, which will play a large role in their success. The Cubbies are 54-26 at Wrigley, and just 39-34 on the road. There is more than just the record differences, as the Cubs hit just .264 on the road and .291 at home. On the road, the Cubs have scored just 366 runs, compared to 444 at Wrigley.

If the Cubs draw the Phillies in the first round, they should have the advantage in both pitching and overall offensive production. They have a better 1-8 than the Phils do, and they have a huge edge in their playoff rotation. Whether they go with a three or four man rotation, they will use Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Ryan Dempster for certain. If they elect to have a fourth man, Ted Lilly will undoubtedly be that last man.

The Phillies have the overall edge in home-away indifference, posting a 44-31 and 42-37 mark respectively. They also have more team speed, as Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino should be active on the basepaths. In addition, Ryan Howard as been white hot lately, and they have Brad Lidge who is yet to blow a save.

Since both teams play in hitters' parks, the pitching will be the big key as usual to this series.

In that case, the Cubs have the edge based on their starting rotation. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers will present an interesting matchup to Zambrano and Harden/Dempster, and in all likelihood the Phils will turn to the ageless wonder Jamie Moyer as their thrird man to matchup with Harden or Dempster, which gives the Cubs a true advantage.

With the Phillies, the Cubs should take the series in four in the NLDS, six in the NLCS.

Should they draw the Mets, the Cubs have the clear advantage in pitching, and the Cubs' offense is not as dependant on their lead-off man as the Mets are.

The Mets lack of a true bullpen will make it difficult for them to do well against this Cubs team. The Mets are 45-29 at home compared to 41-38 on the road, giving them a similar indifference as the Phillies.

The Cubs should have an easier time against the Mets, taking an NLDS set in a clean sweep, and in the NLCS should take a series in five.

Should they play the Dodgers, or somehow the Diamondbacks, the Cubs will be facing teams that are truly hot or cold offensively, are relatively experience-less in October, and have great pitching staffs/

Against either team, they should win in five in the NLCS.

The ensuing World Series with, most likely, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be one of the most entertaining Series in recent memory.

The Cubs have the edge in overall October experience, with the Angels having relied on an abundance of young talent in the pitching staff and now in the starting lineup. Four fifths of the Angels infield will not have had any playoff experience, due in large part to injuries.

However, the Angels have the right formula to succeed in October: great pitching, baserunning, fielding, fundamentals, and the ability to manufacture runs.

Now, don't get me wrong, the Cubs can put up runs and have great pitching. However, they do not have many great baserunners on the team, and the Angels know how to produce runs without the long ball.

Final Prediction: Cubs lose in seven.

However, with a good chunk of the core players under contract for next season, the Cubs will have one heck of a shot next year as well.

Could next year be here?