And so the dream continues for the Cubs. The regular season is over, and now it's do or die. There's no room for error. This is October; only the strong survive.
Usually the Cubs are on the outside looking in this time of year. But not this year. This is their year. It's been 100 years since their last World Series title. This is finally the year they bring home the big one.
That's what a Cubs fan will tell you, anyway. But wait, it's not a free ride to the top. In fact, the journey won't be easy at all. The boys in blue from Tinseltown have championship plans of their own.
They've scratched and clawed their way to the top of the NL West. It's been a long, hard season, and they won't just fold and let the Cubs pass by for the sake of destiny. The Dodgers don't believe in fate; they want to win, too.
So who will it be? The Cubs? The Dodgers? Let's take a look at the two teams and see if we can't figure it out.
Record: 97-63...5.34 RS/G...4.18 RA/G
.354 team OBP...443 team SLG...278 team BA
3.87 team ERA...44/68 SV/SVO...1.29 team WHIP
I'll start by saying that, if I were a Cubs fan, I would have been rooting for the Mets to win the wild card. I would much rather be playing the Mets than the Dodgers. That said, the Cubs will have to play with what is dealt to them, and that is the very dangerous L.A. Dodgers.
The Cubs are probably the best all-around team in the NL. They rank near the top of the league in both hitting and pitching. They have the best record in the NL. Their lineup is relentless. Their team OBP is excellent—first in the NL.
To win this series, the Cubs will have to use that to their advantage. They will need to get on base as much as possible, because most likely, every single run will be important. There won't be any shootouts against the Dodgers, who are first in team ERA in the NL.
Luckily for the Cubs, they have home-field advantage. The Cubs have the best home record in the NL. Wrigleyville is going to have the atmosphere of a college football game; those crowds are going to be crazy.
So, the fact that the Cubs will have three at home is a huge advantage for them. Ryan Dempster is slated to start in Game One. He very much enjoys pitching in Wrigley Field. Most of his wins have come there, and his ERA at Wrigley is considerably lower than it is on the road.
Winning Game One is going to be extremely important for Chicago. The last thing the team or city needs is the panic button being pressed after one day. Between Dempster, Zambrano, and Harden, the Cubs are a very scary opponent in a five-game set.
The big question mark for the Cubs in this series is going to be how their bullpen (especially Kerry Wood) pitches. The Dodgers have one very dangerous man in their lineup that is going to being hurting the Cubs all series long; his name is Manny Ramirez.
The late innings are going to be key for the Cubs. Chances are, despite how well the Dodgers pitch, the Cubs are going to have the lead a lot (albeit a slim one), due to the sheer depth and withering talent their lineup possesses.
It will be impossible to stop the Cubs from scoring. How much they score is up to the Dodgers. Holding those leads is going to be up to a shaky Cub bullpen. That will be the key for Chicago.
Record: 84-77...RS/G 4.34...RA/G 4.00
Team OBP .333...Team SLG .399...Team BA .264
Team ERA 3.87...35/55 SV/SVO...Team WHIP 1.29
The Dodgers came on hard down the stretch to clinch the NL West over the waning Arizona Diamondbacks. The acquisition of Manny Ramirez sparked the team to comeback in the pennant race.
However, the reason they were even in the race was because they pitch the ball better than anyone in the NL, and only the Blue Jays best them in team ERA in the MLB.
The age-old philosophy is that pitching is key in October. That is very, very true. The Dodgers have the most subtle collection of pitching talent in the majors. Their starters don't put up huge numbers (wins, bleh)* but they don't let up a whole lot of runs, either.
The bullpen is solid, and despite losing their closer this season, the Dodger bullpen has still been solid throughout the year. What has troubled the Dodgers all year is their ability to score runs.
Their offense is pedestrian at best. That is, of course, until Manny Ramirez was brought over from Boston. Now, Joe Torre has enough offense to get the job done, and the pitching to shut down anyone. Unfortunately for L.A., Brad Penny will be unavailable for the NLDS.
Playing in Chicago, however, is going to be incredibly difficult. The Cubs are the best team in the NL at home. For the Dodgers to have a shot at winning this series, they HAVE to take one of the first two games.
It is going to be very difficult. If they take Game One, it may be a death blow to the Cubs. That said, the Dodgers need to keep the momentum that they gained at the end of the season.
They need to take a page from Manny's book and just have fun, because when this Dodger team is tense, they don't play ball so well.
Carlos Zambrano- He threw a no hitter and then pitched poorly in his next starts. The guy is a horse though, and he has the type of attitude that can carry a team through a series or all of the playoffs.
Ryan Dempster- The Cubs have to win Game One. He is starting Game One. He has pitched exactly one inning of postseason baseball.
Kerry Wood- Has been shaky in the last month of the season. If the Cubs closer doesn't pitch well, I don't see them doing much.
Geovany Soto- The Cubs' rookie is heading into his first postseason. He will need to come up big at the plate and, more importantly, do his homework on the Dodgers' hitters and call smart games. How he and his pitchers handle Manny Ramirez will be key for this series.
Derek Lowe- Very experienced postseason pitcher, goes in Game One against Dempster. He will definitely be pitching at least two games this series.
Manny Ramirez- He was brought over to get the Dodgers in the playoffs. He is one of the most prolific postseason hitters of all time. He's out for blood this year. He will rake (and the Dodgers will need him to).
Who Will Win...
The series will go five; that is inevitable. The Dodgers are hot. The Cubs are really good. The Cubs were 5-2 against the Dodgers this year. If Brad Penny were pitching in this series, I would probably pick the Dodgers.
Since he is not, I am going to go with the Cubs in five. Zambrano, Harden, and Dempster will be way too much for anyone to handle. Kerry Wood is a Cubs lifer, who has already experienced heartbreak in 2003. I think he'll come through and be very effective closing out games.
SO...Cubs in five.
*I said wins, bleh because wins are a very overrated stat for starters.
Also sorry I didn't provide more stats. MLB.com's stat pages were all messed up when I was writing this. There will be a lot more numbers to look at in the future articles.