Baseball fans are spoiled.
We get to watch our favorite teams play almost every day. Even on the off days, we can resort to cursing our most hated rivals into oblivion—there's always something going on. For most of the past half-year, we've really, truly been absolutely spoiled.
Now, the seasons of 21 teams are over. And for those of us with teams still playing for a World Championship (weird to hear from a Cub fan, I know!), we have no choice but to sit. And wait.
And wait, as Monday becomes Tuesday, Tuesday becomes Wednesday, and Wednesday becomes a tripleheader of postseason baseball on Ted Turner's cable baby. For some—or, at least for me—it's a fairly agonizing ordeal in the meantime.
So what better way to pass the hours than with some good old-fashioned research and analysis?
Let's start where the ball starts—with the pitchers. And in this series, the first pitch will be thrown by a member of the Chicago Cubs' staff.
The Pitching - Chicago
As a staff, the Cubs are first in two very important pitching categories: strikeouts per nine innings and hits per nine innings. However, if they're tops at striking people out and not giving up a lot of hits, but fail to lead the league in ERA, there are really only two questions that need to be asked:
- Do a lot of those hits go for extra bases?
- Do they give up a lot of walks?
Turns out they're actually second in slugging percentage allowed (which measures extra base hits against), to another team that wears a lot of blue (we'll get to that later). So it must be the walks that are getting to them.
And it is.
The Cubs are last among NL playoff teams in walks per nine innings, and next to last among all playoff teams (Dice-K and the Sawx have the bottom spot locked up).
As for the Cubs' Game One starter, Ryan Dempster had a BB/9 of 3.31 this season. That puts him just under last year's league average. Of course, the Cubs will need better than league average this month to play deep into the postseason.
For Dempster to succeed on Wednesday, all he's gotta do is pitch like he did all year in 2008. Specifically, that means something like six or seven strikeouts, two or three walks, four or so hits scattered over seven innings pitched, and only half a home run.
I did say specifically.
We move on.
The Pitching - Los Angeles
The Dodgers' pitching staff also claims the league lead in a few crucial categories: team ERA, on-base percentage against, and slugging percentage against. However, while the Cubs' weakness lies in the base on balls, there doesn't seem to be anything in particular that the Dodgers are really bad at.
That translates to a tough time for Cub hitters over the course of the game.
Since there isn't really a weakness to talk about, let's get right into what the Cubs will need to do to score against Derek Lowe.
Since May, a month in which he was quite bad, Derek Lowe has given up four or more earned runs exactly four times. In those four starts, he walked only four batters, and gave up only three home runs. (Yeesh.) Looking at those numbers, the question remains: How did opponents score all those runs?
The answer: 37 hits, leading to 21 earned runs in 21 innings pitched. Only nine of those hits went for extra bases, so it's strings of singles that appear to be doing Derek in.
Lowe, a sinkerballer, needs the groundballs he induces from Cub hitters to find their way into defenders' gloves instead of the outfield grass. Limit the hits to limit the runs.
For the Cubs to score against Lowe, it appears they'll need to produce what every offense needs to win close games: productive outs and timely hits.
Although a home run here or there wouldn't hurt, either. Go Cubs.
This article is a continuation of a 2008 NLDS Preview that began on Monday, which can be read by following this link, here at Bleacher Report.