Initial Thoughts: I’ll be honest…my real feelings going into this series are that I want nothing but bad things to happen to Manny Ramirez. His words the past few days have pissed me off but I’ll dive right into this without bias and every intention of keeping things even.
On paper, this is a mismatch that was proven by the two teams’ regular season records. The Cubs dominated the National League with a rotation that was four deep, a stud closer and a solid lineup. The Dodgers snuck in due to the fact that someone needs to represent the lowly NL West. Can we discuss how neither the Dodgers nor Diamondbacks wanted to win this? Anyway, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley give them a chance to steal a game at Wrigley but Hiroki Kuroda wouldn’t inspire a load of confidence in me if I were heading into Chavez Ravine wearing Dodger Blue. At the All-Star break I thought the Cubs are the most balanced team in baseball (even more than the :::gasp::: Angels!) and I stand by that tonight.
I already mentioned Lowe and Billingsley but what I think gives this team a legitimate shot at winning the series is its bullpen. Jonathan Broxton, Takashi Saito (health permitting) and Joe Beimel have been very good all year. If Los Angeles has a lead past the eighth, Joe Torre’s palms will be fairly dry (not that the man shows emotion anyway).
We all know Manny has set the world on fire since arriving in LA. It’s who’s around him that will matter in short series such as this. Andruw Jones will need to…..ahhh just kidding. The likes of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Casey Blake, James Loney and Russell Martin are all 15-20 homerun, 75-90 RBI type hitters in what has become a deep lineup. At least one of them is going to have to take the load off Manny’s shoulders at some point and provide a hit in a key situation after Manny is walked or pitched around.
I’m going to reiterate my earlier point: the Dodgers lack rotation depth behind their top two. That’s not even mentioning the fact that neither of them are considered aces. They are relying on Kuroda (who’s even more enigmatic than Dice-K) and Greg Maddux to win playoff games? I’m sorry, I just don’t see it. This was a weakness in the regular season and will be exposed in this series.
Having four quality starters is the biggest luxury in baseball and the Cubs will benefit greatly this postseason from having Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly on their side. When you hear the term “built for the playoffs”, this is the type of rotation they’re referring to. This is the best rotation to enter October since their South Side brethren in 2005.
The middle of the Cubs’ order has a great deal of power and is well known for its timely hitting. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Derek Lee should strike fear into any opposing manager.
Kerry Wood’s health is always going to be a concern. The man is an DL trip waiting to happen. He’s going into the playoffs healthy but he’s someone to keep an eye on.
One of the Cubs’ Big Four is a bit temperamental. He’s Venezuelan and beat the crap out of Michael Barrett. I’ll give you one guess. Ding Ding! Zambrano! His attitude toward being No. 2 in this rotation bears mentioning. Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN broke it down in yesterday’s column
This is also Jeff Samardzija’s first taste of October baseball. He’s passed every test thus far but keep in mind he’s still young.
X-Factors: Rafael Furcal is back in the Dodger lineup and getting on base for Manny and his pack of decent hitters will be crucial to the Dodgers having any chance of scoring runs this series….Mark Derosa has long been one of the most underrated players in baseball and I think this post season will be his platform to show the national audience what he can do.
Who Will Win: The Dodgers’ playoff victory will remain at 1 since 1988 as Manny has a big series but has little help from around him and D-Lowe’s sinker hangs a few times as the Cubs romp in Game 1 on their way to a sweep.