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NLDS Preview: Cubs vs. Dodgers

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
September 30, 2008

Records - Cubs 97-64, Dodgers 84-78
Third order records - Cubs 98-63, Dodgers 89-73
Runs Scored (ML rank)
- Cubs 855 (2nd), Dodgers 700 (24th)
Runs Allowed (ML rank) - Cubs 671 (4th), Dodgers 648 (2nd)

Overview

There are some people who will predict the outcome of a playoff series based solely on the season-long stats of the contestants.  Such people would no doubt foresee the Chicago Cubs drubbing the Los Angeles Dodgers in this best-of-five series, as the teams both did a great job of preventing runs while the Cubs outscored the Dodgers by nearly one run per game.  There is a huge problem with this approach here, and that's problem's name is Manny Ramirez.

As probably the biggest impact trade deadline acquisition of all time, Ramirez has transformed the Dodgers into a competent hitting ballclub.  Even looking at just Post-All-Star statistics, which includes a couple weeks of non-Man Ram time, the Dodgers trail the Cubs in team OPS by only five points.  In the month of September, Manny's Dodgers out-scored Kerry Wood's Cubs 135 to 112 and out-OPSed them by .815 to .742.  Even though we do see the Dodgers as being the better hitting team of late, the Cubs still appear to be converting their hitting into runs more efficiently than the Dodgers are. 

Why should that happen?  The Cubs have 65 sacrifice bunts in 93 attempts (70%) while the Dodgers have 64 in 75 (85%).  The Cubs have stolen 87 bases in 121 attempts (72%) while the Dodgers have 126 in 169 (75%).  Both stats would suggest the Dodgers being able to manufacture runs more effectively.  Clutch stats, however, tell a different story.  The Cubs has an .819 OPS with runners in scoring position that ties Boston for third best in baseball while the Dodgers are 27th with a .723 mark.  You would guess that in any key situation, Lou Piniella would elect to walk Manny Ramirez and challenge the rest of this pressure-choking team to get a big hit.

The other big mismatch here can be found in the bullpen.  Top Dodger setup man Hong-Chih Kuo will miss the series with an elbow injury, meaning that the Dodgers' best bets at bridging the gap to closer Jonathan Broxton might be starters Greg Maddux and Clayton Kershaw, though Maddux' first inning struggles and lack of a dominant pitch portend disaster as a reliever and the 20-year old Kershaw wouldn't figure to shine in the postseason in an unfamiliar role.  Meanwhile, the Cubs' combo of Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Marmol, and Kerry Wood ranks among the best in the game.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1 - Derek Lowe (14-11 3.24) @ Ryan Dempster (17-6 2.96)

Sinkerballers tend to perform better at home than on the road for some reason.  That effect may be lessened when two such ground ball artists face each other, as a grounds crew really can't alter the field to favor one over the other.  Still, the numbers are significant: Lowe is 5-6 4.42 on the road while Dempster is 14-3 2.86 at home.

Big edge for the Cubs

Game 2 - Chad Billingsley (16-10 3.14) @ Carlos Zambrano (14-6 3.91)

Billingsley is one of the best young pitchers in the game, and he can certainly out-pitch a Carlos Zambrano that is sulking or pressing because he is not pitching Game 1.  He cannot, however, beat a Big Z who uses his recent struggles (7.93 ERA in his last 8 starts [yes, that includes his no-hitter]) as motivation for excellence (see aforementioned no-hitter).

Slight edge for Dodgers

Game 3 - Rich Harden (10-2 2.07) @ Hiroki Kuroda (9-10 3.73)

Those are pretty tasty numbers for being a #3 starter, Mr. Harden.  Kuroda's best chance for a victory here is for the Cubs to all get blinded from the unbelievably brilliant flash of light that will occur when Kuroda faces Kosuke Fukudome in the postseason.

Big edge for the Cubs

Game 4 - Ted Lilly (17-9 4.09) @ TBD

This could be Maddux, Kershaw, or Lowe back on three days rest for the Dodgers.  Lowe is actually the best option, since he would be pitching at home and sinkerballers tend to be more effective when fatigued (though our limited data set for Lowe [3-1 4.78 <4 days rest] does not necessarily support that).   The Dodgers are 31-21 against southpaws as compared with 53-57 against right-handers, so Lilly's road success (10-4 3.77) may be somewhat muted here.

Slight edge for Dodgers

Game 5 -  TBD @ Ryan Dempster (17-6 2.96)

Dempster at home again, either against a lesser pitcher, a 24-year old on short rest, or a sinkerballer away from home.

Big edge for the Cubs

Outlook

Manny Ramirez has made everyone in the lineup around him better, but other than Andre Ethier, that still means mediocre or worse.  Meanwhile, the Cubs have the deepest lineup in the game; one that extends to the bench.  The Dodgers' best chances of pulling off an upset is for recently-healed Rafael to somehow regain his improbable first-half form as a sparkplug or for Lou Piniella to have several "senior moments" in which he elects to pitch to Manny with runners on base.

Prediction: Cubs in four




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com or found at the Baseball Evolution Forum

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