Monday, August 20, 2007

Rainout causes massive confusion

I don't even know where to begin here. With the Cubs/Cardinals game being rained out in the third inning on Sunday, many questions arose. After several hours have passed, the answers to these questions aren't any clearer.

Let's first start with Major League Baseball's concern: when is this game made up? The teams have two common off-days, but neither seem like they would work. August 27 is the first of two such days, but this would put both teams at 21 consecutive days with a game and 34 consecutive days for which a game was scheduled, counting Saturday (yesterday). Any stretch longer than 20 consecutive days without an off-day would have to be approved by the MLBPA but with this game having so many playoff implications, this might be an exception that the player's association feels is warranted. The second common off-day is Monday, September 10, but it is even less of an option. Should a game be scheduled then, the Cardinals would be forced to play 35 games in the season's final 34 days.

With Monday's game also in jeopardy due to the weather, things get awfully interesting. Both teams would leave Chicago at the end of Monday's game and while the Cardinals have a short trip back home to St. Louis for a Tuesday night game, the Cubs would have to fly all the way across the country to San Francisco. Even so, every effort must be made to complete this game; failure to do so will almost ensure that the division championship would not be decided on its own merits.

Going with just 161 games for the Cubs and the Cardinals is probably the most likely option. After all, the Cardinals played only 161 regular season games last year when they won the division title. It's possible that Major League Baseball will wait until the end of the season to see if that 162nd game is necessary before choosing whether or not it should even be made up. Monday, October 1 would become the day for the make-up game if necessary and it's not a problem for the Cubs, though this forces the Cardinals to play 22 games in the season's final 21 days.

The participant in the Monday, October 1 game would obviously be given Tuesday, October 2 off and be assigned to the series that starts a day later than all of the others. While there is a ripple-down effect, if the 162nd game could decide who makes the playoffs, it is a necessary evil.

Another interesting option is to make up the game at Busch Stadium. There is precedent for this too: when hurricanes blew through Florida in September of 2004, the Marlins and Cubs made up a game originally scheduled to be played in Miami at the Friendly Confines. The Cubs will make one more trip to St. Louis on September 14-16 and that would be a no-brainer of a choice had there not been a double header scheduled for September 15. Another doubleheader would not be played on get-away day, so September 14 would be the day. This creates another minor complication: it would force the Astros to move up their game time in their game against the Cubs on the 13th, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not so bad.

Then, from the Cubs side of the coin, you can't help but wonder whether Zambrano will return on regular rest. Separating Zambrano and Lilly is intriguing at first, especially with the Cubs suffering a few medium-length losing skids over the recent past. Piniella might be tempted to split his two best pitchers so as to avoid the long losing streaks in the future.

But, Chicago has 40 regular season games remaining: bringing back Zambrano on short rest doesn't give him more starts: he won't get more than eight in any event. He always pitches well on extra rest, so why not give it to him when you have the chance? We're up by a full game in the standings (two in the loss column), so now is not the time to panic and try new things with the rotation.

And even though it's foolish to speculate on what the rotation may look like several weeks down the road, you can't help but count the days on the schedule. As of now, Zambrano is set to pitch in both the series against Milwaukee at the end of the month and the four-gamer in St. Louis in September. Moving Zambrano up probably wouldn't prevent him from pitching against the Brewers but it looks like it could put his start against the Cardinals in jeopardy.

Looks like Zambrano coming back on regular rest might be the best thing after all.

Cubs eyeing broom: In late April, the Cubs got a shortened sweep when Chicago took the first two from St. Louis before the tragic death of Josh Hancock. Now, the Cubs have the opportunity to hand the Cardinals another shortened sweep, even though the reason for Saturday's game's cancellation is far less emotional.

Ted Lilly goes for the Cubs and he'll try to tie Carlos Zambrano (and others) for the league lead with 14 wins. He is opposed by Joel Piniero, a recent Cardinals acquisition that has been throwing the ball well since joining the National League.

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