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Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Playoff Preview - National League Championship Series

What is more likely to bring about the end of the world?  A championship by the Cubs or Jeff Loria?

Season series:

Cubs, 4-2. The games were played around the All-Star break, before the Cubs
acquired a large chunk of their current offense from Pittsburgh. The Marlins
weren’t much different then than they are now, adding only Jeff Conine to the
mix since the break while moving Ugueth Urbina to the closer spot and Braden
Looper back into a setup role.

To some extent, these teams are mirror images of each other. Both teams have
four good-to-very-good starters, offenses that rely heavily on a few key
players, and bullpens that have had their ups-and-downs.

face=Arial>

Pitching:

Game 1
Starter       G GS W-L   ERA
J. Beckett (R)  24 23 9-8 3.04
M. Prior (R)  30 30 18-6 2.43
 
Game 2
Starter       G GS W-L ERA  
B. Penny (R)  32 32 14-10 4.13
C. Zambrano (R) 32 32 13-11 3.11  

Game 3
Starter       G GS W-L ERA  
K. Wood (R)  32 32 14-11 3.20
M. Redman (L)  29 29 14-9 3.59

Game 4
Starter       G GS W-L ERA
M. Clement (R)  32 32 14-12 4.11
D. Willis (L)  27 27 14-6 3.30

I think that Prior will start games 1 and 5 so that he could be available for
a possible Game 7 in relief. However, Zambrano and Prior could flip-flop.

The starters match up pretty well, in my opinion. Prior/Beckett should rival
Prior/Maddux for drama and tension, and Mark Redman should be able to handle the
Wood matchup. Redman shut out the Cubs in the first game after the All-Star
break, although as I noted above the Cubs didn’t have Lofton and Ramirez then.
Penny was also outstanding in his lone start against the Cubs, but was bested 1
0 by Wood. Willis had one good start and one poor outing (6 ER in 2 innings),
and Beckett was hit pretty hard in his lone effort. For the Cubs, Zambrano
pitched very well against the Marlins, as did Clement, and of course Wood. Prior
didn’t face the Fish. The possible concern here - and it should be a very real
concern for Cub fans - is that Prior and Wood have thrown a *lot* of innings and
pitches this year, and there’s always the possibility that the load will catch
up to them. I don’t think that will happen, but it’s always in the
background.

The Cubs have an advantage in the bullpen. The Marlins’ middle relief is
unsettled behind Urbina, whereas the Cubs have been getting steady work from
Farnsworth and Remlinger. Urbina has the edge in closing experience over
Borowski, but Borowski has acquitted himself nicely so far in the
postseason.

Florida’s lineup:

Pierre, CF
Castillo, 2B
Rodriguez, C
Lee, 1B
Cabrera, 3B
Encarnacion, RF
Conine, LF
A. Gonzalez, SS
pitcher

When Pierre and Castillo are getting on base, this team can score runs in
bunches. When they aren’t, the Marlins find it difficult to manufacture runs.
With All-Star 3B Mike Lowell still not 100% and unlikely to play more than a
cameo role, there’s no consistent power threat in the lineup. Cabrera responded
nicely to sitting in favor of Lowell in Game 3 of the NLDS, with four hits in
the finale. I like his future, but he’s still got a tendency to hack too much in
the present, and I think that Wood and Prior will exploit that tendency. The
Fish therefore have to get more from Lee and Encarnacion (6-31, 1 double, 1 HR,
3 RBI in the NLDS). Pudge can’t do everything, although he came pretty darned
close to it in Game 4 of the NLDS.

 

Chicago’s lineup:

Lofton, CF
Grudzielanek, 2B
Sosa, RF
Alou, LF
Ramirez, 3B
Karros/Simon, 1B
AS Gonzalez, SS
Miller/Bako, C
pitcher

The Cubs should send at least a half-postseason share to Dave Littlefield for
donating Lofton, Ramirez, and Simon at the cost of very little (Bobby Hill). I
seriously doubt that the Cubs would have made the postseason without them; they
added just enough offense to supplement Sammy and Moises. It’s still not a great
offense. There aren’t enough people in it who do a good job of getting on base,
although Lofton posted a .381 OBP after coming over to the Cubs. Sammy didn’t
have a good series against the Braves, but Alou more than made up for it, and
(as they have pretty much all year) the Cubs got timely hits from the lesser
players like Karros and Gonzalez when they needed them in the NLDS. I don’t
think the Cubs should be counting on that happening again, which means that
Sammy needs to kick it into gear. The Marlins managed to neutralize Bonds, and
while the Cubs’ offense isn’t as dependent on Sosa as the Giants are on Barry,
they don’t have the firepower to afford a long-term slump from him.

 

Benches:

Ecch. Aside from Lowell, neither team has much offensive help on the
bench.

 

Managers:

Both Jack McKeon and Dusty Baker get the most out of their teams. McKeon’s
probably a better tactical manager, but not enough so that it’s likely to make
much difference. Baker does some things that statheads don’t like, but he
doesn’t usually manage his teams out of games.

 

Keys:

The Marlins have a team of contact hitters, who put the ball in play and who
stretch the defense once it’s in play. Florida’s hitters fanned just 978 times
this season, the third fewest in the league behind Atlanta and St. Louis. If the
Marlins put the ball in play consistently against Wood, Prior, et. al., they
will score runs. They did that very well against San Francisco.

The Cubs need to keep Pierre and Castillo off base. Miller and Bako did a
pretty good job in keeping the running game under control this year, throwing
out 40 of 109 basestealers during the year, and maintaining or bettering that
level of success is essential if Chicago is to advance.

 

Outlook:

The Marlins have never lost a postseason series. Florida’s AA team is my
hometown team, as most of my regular readers know. I’ll be rooting for the
Marlins. But I think the Cubs have slightly more depth on offense. I also think
the Cubs’ pitching, especially the late-game relief, is better. And I think the
Cubs are more likely to contain the Marlins’ strengths and cover their own
weaknesses than are the Fish.

It should be a great series, and while it pains me to say it, I think it will
be

Cubs in 7.

 

Mike Emeigh Posted: October 07, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 12 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 07, 2003 at 02:46 AM (#613287)
I wrote this article before the pitching matchups were announced. Naturally, Dusty decided to start Zambrano in game 1 and Prior in game 2, depriving us of the Prior/Beckett clash of the titans. Oh well.

Success rate of basestealers against the Cub catchers:

Miller: 42/69, 60.9%
Bako: 27/40, 67.5%
Josh Paul: 1/3, 33.3%

Dusty has been semi-platooning Miller and Bako for the past month or so. Bako has been getting most of the starts against RHP, with Miller starting against LHP and the occasional RHP (he started against Maddux in Game 3 of the NLDS). In the six regular season games, the Marlins were 3/6 in SB against the Cubs, with all three SB against the pen and all three CS against Wood.

None of the Cubs' starters in this series are particularly easy to run against. Runners were successful less than half the time against Prior, Wood, and Zambrano, and were 6/11 against Clement. When the Marlins get into the bullpen, they should find it easier to run; runners were 8/8 against Borowski, 2/2 against Remlinger, 8/12 against Farnsworth, and 15/16 against Alfonseca. I would expect the Marlins to see a lot of Guthrie in the late innings if the running game is in order - runners were 0/3 against him and he also had three pickoffs in just 42 2/3 innings.

I think that the Cubs will be able to neutralize Florida's basestealers.

-- MWE
   2. Andere Richtingen Posted: October 07, 2003 at 02:46 AM (#613289)
As you said, Mike, keeping Pierre off base is key. In his six games against the Cubs, they walked him five times and he put up a .423 OBA. That simply cannot happen. You have to throw the guy strikes and force him to make contact to get on base.

I'm not sure if it's paper covers rock or the other way around regarding a strikeout pitching staff against a contact hitting team, but it certainly worked out well for the Cubs against the Braves, who strike out even less than the Fish.

Much of it may come down to tactics, and you're right about McKeon being a much better tactician than Baker. However, Baker's freedom to make bad decisions has been cut somewhat short by the roster he was given, with both Estes and Womack gone. Womack could reappear on the roster for the NLCS, but even then, Baker would be hard pressed to start him in place of Grudzielanek. Goodwin and Glanville are unlikely to take PAs away from Lofton. I think Baker made very few tactical errors in the NLDS, and nothing obvious. I try never to be complacent and think I can predict Baker's decision-making, but if this series is like the NLDS, tactics will not be much of an issue.
   3. True Blue n/k/a "DeJesusFreak" Posted: October 07, 2003 at 02:46 AM (#613308)
One other note -- while Willis struggled badly in his second start against the Cubs (2IP, 6H, 6R, 6ER, 3BB, 1K), it should be noted that there were slightly extenuating circumstances. In that game, Willis pitched the first inning effectively, then there was an extensive rain delay. McKeon sent Willis out after the delay and he was a much different pitcher, getting shelled.
   4. Moses Taylor, Moses Taylor Posted: October 07, 2003 at 02:46 AM (#613309)
True-
You're right about Willis. But Zambrano came back into that game also after the rain delay and did fine. I think it had just as much to do with the fact that it was the 2nd time that week the Cubs had faced Willis.

I don't know why, but I have a feeling this series won't go that long-I'm thinking 4 or 5 games. I know the 2 teams are evenly matched, but I just have a weird feeling that 1 of the teams is going to get all the breaks. I'd love for that to be the Cubs, but I am really worried about the combo of Florida's speed and the infield defense. I know Gonzalez is good at SS, but I see Aramis making several big erros on plays where he tries to force throws. I really think tonight is going to set the tone for the series.
   5. True Blue n/k/a "DeJesusFreak" Posted: October 07, 2003 at 02:46 AM (#613310)
If the Cubs were to make the Series, my guess is that they will DH whomever doesn't start at 1B (Karros or Simon).

If they don't do that and Dusty wants to stick to a platoon, I'm guessing they will go with Glanville as a righty DH (with Karros at 1B) and O'Leary as a lefty DH (with Simon at 1B). (I would personally prefer avoiding the platoon or at least use Martinez as the righty, but that's another story.)
   6. Andere Richtingen Posted: October 07, 2003 at 02:47 AM (#613352)
I don't know what page you're looking at, but the Cubs page says Zambrano.
   7. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 07, 2003 at 02:47 AM (#613363)
I got my OCS numbers from MLB.com.

-- MWE
   8. Joey B. Posted: October 08, 2003 at 02:47 AM (#613382)
I sincerely hope people here actually watched last night's game, because it was an instant classic, with balls flying out out of the park on both sides and both teams fighting like hell to stay in it.

Pudge is simply unbelievable. What's the record for most RBIs by one player in the postseason?
   9. WTM Posted: October 08, 2003 at 02:47 AM (#613383)
"With All-Star 3B Mike Lowell still not 100% and unlikely to play more than a cameo role, there's no consistent power threat in the lineup."

I've been wondering for some time whether people are having trouble distinguishing Derrek Lee from Travis Lee. Derrek was 7th in OPS among all ML firstbasemen, despite being severely handicapped by his home park--his OPS was .790 at home and .979 on the road. His OPS was slightly higher than Lowell's, his slg. avg. just a little lower. Yet he gets very little respect.
   10. Carl Goetz Posted: October 08, 2003 at 02:47 AM (#613388)
Where's the ALCS preview?
   11. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 08, 2003 at 02:47 AM (#613398)
Comparing the Cubs' seasonal OPS to the Marlins is misleading, because the Cubs didn't have Ramirez and Lofton until the trading deadline, and both were light years beyond the players that they were replacing.

I wouldn't say that the Marlins have a *clear edge* at 2B; Grudzielanek had a .366 OBP this year and hits for more pop than does Castillo.

The point I was trying to make is that without Lowell the Marlins rely primarily on two guys - Pudge and Lee - to generate quick offense, and if you control those two players, the Marlins will struggle to string enough hits together to score. With the Cubs, Sosa, Alou, Ramirez, and the 1B platoon all can drive the ball, and for that reason I think the Cubs are more likely to be able to be able to score runs without having to string a bunch of hits together to do it. Last night notwithstanding...

I didn't think much about Derrek Lee when writing the article, to be honest - I didn't realize he'd hit 31 HRs this year. I still think he's more of a line-drive guy than a power bat, but you can't argue with the stats.
   12. mike green Posted: October 09, 2003 at 02:48 AM (#613410)
They've played two games, and I still don't know whether the Marlins have the pesky patience to wear out the Cubs' starting three and get into their bullpen consistently in the 6th inning. Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are both vulnerable to this kind of offensive approach. Key stat: pitches/plate appearance.

I do know that either the Yankees or the Red Sox' offences have the ability to run up the opposing pitcher's pitch count, and that if the Cubs survive this set, they will be underdogs against the AL champion.

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