Friday, October 5, 2007

Snakes in complete control

The Cubs have struggled through adversity before this year. In a matter of just 27 games in July and August, the Cubs made up 7 1/2 games on the Milwaukee Brewers for a share of first place. However, if the Cubs want to keep playing past the Division Series, they're going to have to climb out of a much bigger hole.

The Arizona Diamondbacks won the first two games at Chase Field to retain home field advantage and back the Cubs into a corner in this best-of-five division series. Exactly how big of a hole is it? Well, no team in the National League in the history of the Division Series has come back from a 2-0 deficit.

Initially, I believed that we were the fourth best NL team in the playoffs, but after hearing the opinions of Cubs fans and the so-called experts, I began to second guess what I thought. Turns out, Arizona cleared things up; not only did they beat us, they beat us decidedly in two very different games.

Part of the problem for the Cubs have been the lack of offense. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee combined to go 106-for-327 (.324) with 55 extra-base hits, including a monster 29 homeruns in the month of September to get the Cubs into the postseason. However, in the first two games of the playoffs, the Diamondbacks pitchers have worked the Cubs' sluggers with more curveballs and changeups, an approach that has resulted in the three main Cubs going just 4-for-27 (all singles) with 12 strikeouts. Combined, the NL Central champions have gone 12-for-67 (.179) with 23 strikeouts.

The Cubs will look to turn things around at Wrigley Field and they do have good lifetime numbers against Arizona's game 3 starter, Livan Hernandez. Cliff Floyd is 14-for-41 with 3 doubles and 2 homers while Kendall is 11-for-31 and Ramirez is 10-for-26 with 3 doubles and 4 homers (1.346 OPS). DeRosa, Jones, and Ward also have averages at or above .333, though in a considerably smaller sample size. But with Hernandez being even more of a junk-baller, can Piniella's boys make the adjustment from what happened in the first two games?

Even if we do get past Hernandez and Owings, we'd still need to beat Webb at Chase Field. It looks like the writing's on the wall. We're not going to make it past the first round of the playoffs this year and it's not because of goats, curses, black cats, or Steve Bartman. The Diamondbacks are just a better team; they didn't have the best record in the league for nothing.

For what it's worth though, I think that Lou made all of the right moves in Game 2. He had every reason to believe that Ted Lilly would be able to bounce back and unfortunately by the time he found out that Lilly would not be able to return to form, it was too late.

How I would do it: Here's my game three lineup.

1. LF Alfonso Soriano
2. C Jason Kendall

Jacque Jones and Ryan Theriot both had their shots at the top of the lineup. Now, with Jason Kendall having good lifetime numbers against Hernandez, he gets a shot.

3. 1B Derrek Lee
4. RF Cliff Floyd

Aramis Ramirez has been struggling, so let's try throwing the lefties in between again.

5. 3B Aramis Ramirez
6. CF Jacque Jones

Keeping the left-right-left theme alive.

7. 2B Mark DeRosa
8. SS Ryan Theriot
9. LHP Rich Hill

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