Monday, September 24, 2007

Double result changes "if" to "when"

A lot of the discussions about the Cubs I've been having since the sweep of Pittsburgh and the Brewers loss to the Braves have been about what will happen when we make the playoffs, instead of being concerned about if we will make the playoffs. Granted, the magic number is still 4 and I know that nothing's been decided yet, but we have a 3 1/2 game lead in the division; even if we finish the season 1-5, the Brewers still have to go 5-2 just to force a tie. And is giving us anywhere from 95% to 98% odds of making the playoffs.

The rotation is an interesting thing to ponder. Currently, Carlos Zambrano is set to pitch in game #161 on Saturday and Ted Lilly will get the nod on #162 on Sunday. While I completely understand that it may be too early for us to start considering things now, let's face it: it's (statistically) likely that we won't need either game.

If that's the case, the impulse decision would be to push Zambrano and Lilly back to games 1 and 2 of the division series, respectively. But with the new postseason schedule, that would put nine days in between starts for Zambrano. For a guy that lacks command like Zambrano does, giving him too much rest could be problematic. So what are your other options?

Pitching Zambrano out of the bullpen or letting him throw in a simulated game aren't good options, which leaves just one thing. Let him throw in game 161, regardless. Push Ted Lilly back to the first game of the playoffs, which would lead Zambrano to pitch in Thursday's game 2. He'd still be going on regular rest and he'd still be pitching on the road. And you could still give him two starts (if that's what you want); Monday's off day makes Tuesday regular rest for Thursday's starter.

The postseason roster is also becoming clearer: it seems as though Piniella has made it obvious that he will be taking Soto, Wuertz, and Murton, by the way he's been using those guys over the past few days. The second lefty reliever has still yet to emerge, but Angel Pagan has officially been deemed as being out for the year, meaning Felix Pie is the guy the Cubs will turn to, if they want a defense/running substitute.

The possible first round opponent certainly hasn't gotten clearer, though. We still know that it will be the winner of the division that gets the wild card, but the Phillies are just 1/2 game behind San Diego, meaning the Cubs need to stay on their toes for both the Mets and the Diamondbacks. If that wasn't confusing enough, the Rockies are now just 1 1/2 games behind the Padres, while margin in both divisions is just 2 1/2 games. It's possible that we might have to play either the Phillies or Padres, if either of the current leaders gets knocked down to second.

Just in case you're wondering, we were 2-5 this year against the Mets, while posting a 2-4 record vs Arizona. Against Philadelphia we went 3-4, and 3-5 against the Padres.

The final week For the final seven games, the Brewers will return home, where they are 47-27. However, they have been 5-7 against the Cardinals thus far this year and 0-3 vs San Diego. The Cubs will hit the road after an off-day, but the road hasn't really been a problem for Piniella's boys, unlike Yost's club. We're 39-36 away from the Friendly Confines.

The pitching matchups also look favorable for us. While the Brewers have to face Wainwright, Looper, Maddux, and Young (and/or Peavy), we have Willis, Barone and Olsen in the series against the Marlins.

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