Friday, October 03, 2008

Cubs Going Down in Flames ... and Other 2008 Baseball Playoff Observations

I can now confirm what I subsconsciously knew when I wrote my "useless" predictions about the baseball playoffs only a short few days ago: most prognostications are just a random chance guess. An entry headline where "Cubs Going Down in Flames" doesn't begin to tell someone how painful it has been to watch the NL's best regular-season team failing to deliver by any measure so far in the postseason.

One may want to blame all of this on a "curse", but the manner in which the Chicago north side team played on Wednesday and Thursday can most certainly be called "ugly". There is no doubt about that. Their pitching has been poor (7+ runs in each game), they haven't shown any offensive muscle (2 and 3 runs, respectively), and the defense has been uncharacteristically bad (1 error in Game 1 followed by 4! in Game 2). When starter Carlos Zambrano, the "ace" of the staff", gives up seven runs but only three are earned thanks to two miscues in one half inning alone, you know the team is self-destructing. Realistically, the Cubs have dug themselves into a hole from which recovery is not probable. Possible, yes, but not likely. The next game will feature the Cubs' "next best" starter in Rich Harden, who gives them some hope, but then a Game 4, if there is one, would likely feature the Dodgers' Derek Lowe, who shut them down in Game 1. Of course, both games are being playing on the road, away from the "Friendly Confines" and in Chavez Ravine (i.e. Dodger Stadium). The sweep that I projected was not supposed to happen like this ... are the Dodgers really this good? Dodgers lead 2-0. Game 3 in LA on Saturday.

Around the rest of playoff action ...

How about those Rays? Evan Longoria, rookie extraordinaire, provided much of the offense (and possibly en route to a series MVP) with two homers and three RBI. The Rays bullpen, not suprisingly, was stellar in Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell, both notching two K in their appearances. Dan Wheeler made one mistake (homer to Paul Konerko) but was otherwise in control in recording the save. The White Sox offensively could have kept pace but stranded 11 runners on base. The top of the seventh inning was really the critical moment, as starter James Shields walked Alexi Ramirez and then hit A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch to load the bases (after Konerko had reached base earlier with a single). Balfour came in and struck out the only two batters he faced - Juan Uribe and Orlando Cabrera - to escape unscathed and preserve the lead. Keep an eye on Tampa the rest of the way. Rays lead 1-0. Game 2 Friday in Tampa.

CC Sabathia has officially run out of gas. The fatigue factor of pitching so many innings with so few days rest appears to have finally caught the big guy. Couple that with Philadelphia starter Brett Myers walking in a run in the first (avoiding more possible damage) but then settling down to work the next five scoreless innings before surrending only a second in the seventh, his last inning. Sabathia couldn't make it out of the fourth inning, leaving with the bases loaded but rescued by reliever Mitch Stetter. The real damage against CC happened in the bottom of the second, notably where five runs scored (all of the Philly offense for the game) in a sequence that saw him walk, unexpectedly, his counterpart Myers followed by Jimmy Rollins, both with two outs. That left the bases loaded, and Sabathia made a mistake to Shane Victorino that resulted in the centerfielder's first career grand slam. Phillies lead the series 2-0 and appear easily in control heading to Milwaukee for Game 3. Game 3 Saturday in Milwaukee.

No new games played in the only other series - Angels vs Red Sox - where the home team Angels must rebound tonight behind starter Ervin Santana, who reversed a trend this season by pitching better away from "The Big A" home field than on it. Hopefully, he pulls some of his 2006 and 2007 success of home dominance to the park in Game 2. His counterpart is Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka), who had an outstanding season with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.90, to be exact) and a measly .211 BAA. He faced the Angels only once this season (his first time ever) and was shelled at Fenway for seven hits and six runs in only five innings of work, one of his few season losses. Santana did not face Boston this season, making him a bit of a wild card. His last appearance against Boston was late in 2007, where he won in Boston by allowing only one run in 6 1/3 innings. Red Sox lead 1-0. Game 2 Friday in Anaheim.

No comments:

Post a Comment