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L.A. Goodbye: Cubs-Dodgers Series Preview

There have been, since the World Series began in 1903, 103 major league postseasons -- no, I haven't miscounted; there was no World Series in 1904, nor a postseason in 1994.

The Cubs and Dodgers, historic franchises, have participated in 35 of those between them. Between them they've been in 26 World Series (ten for the Cubs, 16 for the Dodgers; only the Cardinals, with 13, and the Dodgers, have won more NL pennants than the Cubs since 1900) and nine other postseasons in the divisional play era without making it to the Series (five for the Cubs, four for the Dodgers). But tomorrow marks the first time in the long history of both these teams that they will meet in a postseason game.

I thought, rather than do position by position matchups, which rarely mean anything (seriously: catchers don't do battle with each other on the field), I'd take a look back at the seven games these two teams played against each other during the regular season -- with the caveat that the Dodgers are a very different team now than they were then, having added Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake to their offense. The Cubs won the season series 5-2 by sweeping the Dodgers at home and splitting four games in Los Angeles.

May 26 at Wrigley Field -- Cubs 3, Dodgers 1:

Ryan Dempster [had his] 11th good start of the season. Yes, all 11 -- look at his previous game log and you'll see that although he had a couple of "not-great" starts, he hasn't been blown out of any of them, and has gone six or more innings in 10 of 11. Today, after getting out of a first-inning jam he caused himself by walking the nearly-unwalkable Juan Pierre by a nicely-executed rundown of Pierre trying to score (my friend and BCB reader bison texted me from California, where he had scored it from home 1-6-4-5-2-3-4), Dempster settled down and retired nine of the next ten hitters he faced, finally running into trouble in the fifth when Mark DeRosa couldn't handle an infield popup and had no play as Matt Kemp, who had doubled, scored LA's only run.

Dempster got himself out of another jam in the 6th, after he had loaded the bases with two singles and a walk to Kemp, and again in the 7th, when no one was warming up, a testament to how overworked the bullpen was in all the extra-inning games in Pittsburgh. Dempster threw 117 pitches, 71 for strikes, and Bob Howry had to do the same thing in the 8th. We couldn't figure out why Scott Eyre, warmed and ready, didn't come in to face two lefty hitters in James Loney and Delwyn Young. Lou explained during the news conference that he thought Howry was throwing better, and it appears he wanted to give Howry a confidence-builder.

That's a risky way to win games, but it worked. Howry struck out Loney and got Young to fly to Jim Edmonds (the ball, not too far away from Alfonso Soriano, had us yelling, "Let Edmonds take it!" (We were threatening to ask the Cubs to put those beeping sounds you hear from trucks backing up near the wall so Alfonso would know when he's getting close to it, either that or yellow crime-scene tape.)

Dempster, for his part, continued pitching well all year -- he only had one or two bad starts the entire season.

May 28 at Wrigley Field -- Cubs 3, Dodgers 1:

[Kosuke] Fukudome, who has been in an offensive funk, snapped out of it with the double, a single and a walk, and made a couple of sparkling defensive plays in right field. How anyone could consider hurting the defense by moving him to CF and putting a minor league first baseman in right, I simply cannot understand. It does appear, as I keep saying, that Jim Edmonds is done, done, D-O-N-E (have I said done?). He went 0-for-4 last night, got booed roundly the last two times, and his bat speed is probably about the same as Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry's would be if Perry took the field now. Edmonds did make one nice catch going back on a fly ball to the warning track; his fielding is still decent and he catches everything he gets to. I still fail to see how this team is helped by his presence.

Last night's performance by Kerry Wood ought to quiet a similar chorus asking for him to be replaced at closer. He looked dominant and seems to be getting more comfortable in the role each time out. Meanwhile, Carlos Marmol had a shaky outing, loading the bases before getting out of the jam. I'd like to see him rest up some, as he's bordering on severe overwork.

Well, obviously, I was wrong about Edmonds that day in May -- he started hitting right after that and has been an exemplary presence on the field and in the clubhouse. His postseason experience -- he has more than anyone else on the club, even Alfonso Soriano -- will be invaluable in October.

May 29 at Wrigley Field -- Cubs 2, Dodgers 1:

Before a near-sellout of 39,945 on a night that was, by the end, starting to get cold, the Cubs provided 9th and 10th inning dramatics that had Wrigley Field rocking as I have never heard it for a regular season game this early in the year, and Alfonso Soriano shut up his critics (for a day, at least) by poking a single into left field, scoring Mike Fontenot with the winning run in an excruciatingly exciting 2-1 Cubs win over the Dodgers, completing the Cubs' fourth three-game sweep at home this season, moving their home record to a spectacular 22-8, pushing them 11 games over .500 for the first time since the last day of the ill-fated 2004 season...

Remind me again why the Cubs need another starting pitcher? They allowed an admittedly hurting LA "offense" three runs in this series, and the only one Carlos Zambrano allowed last night was on a bases-loaded walk after he had helped load the bases by hitting Matt Kemp. Z admitted in his postgame comments that he knew he didn't have his best stuff or command; he walked four, tying his season high, and had to get, essentially, five outs in that tense eighth inning because his defense deserted him (Mark DeRosa let a ball go off his glove which was ruled a hit, and Ryan Theriot made a throwing error, both of which could have been outs). Z threw an alarmingly high total of 130 pitches -- something we haven't seen since the Baker era. However, Lou said in his own postgame remarks that he'll keep Z on a short leash in his next start...

It was right after that when Z's shoulder started to bark at him and a little over two weeks later, he had to be taken out of a game at Tampa Bay and wound up on the DL. I think Z is fine now, but the staff will have to watch his pitch count closely. (Yet another reason Bob Howry shouldn't be on the playoff roster.)

June 5 at Dodger Stadium -- Cubs 5, Dodgers 4:

Kerry Wood, who some here were ready to throw under the bus when he had a tough debut as closer on Opening Day, is now leading the National League in saves.

Once again, this team won with a different hero; last night it was Kosuke Fukudome, who hit his first MLB home run away from Wrigley Field and who drove in the winning run with e perfectly-placed single off his countryman Takashi Saito in the 9th inning.

The Cubs blew an early 4-0 lead when Jeff Kent homered twice, once off Ryan Dempster, once off Bob Howry, who nearly did a Ted Lilly slam-the-glove-down move, rare for him -- you almost never see Howry show emotion on the mound -- but this resilient team came back. Props to Neal Cotts for throwing a scoreless inning -- so far, since his recall, Cotts looks more like the setup man who had a 1.94 ERA for the 2005 champion White Sox, than the guy who got sent down seemingly never to return last year.

Kent won't be playing in this series (and we hope, neither will Howry), and it would be great if Fukudome could get out of his two-month offensive funk and contribute in this series.

June 6 at Dodger Stadium -- Dodgers 3, Cubs 0:

... they just got beat last night when they got shut down by a pretty good pitcher. That kind of stuff happens even to great teams (example: the 114-win 1998 Yankees got shut out five times, including by scores of 7-0, 9-0 and 11-0. This makes three for the 2008 Cubs). [Hiroki] Kuroda not only held the Cubs to four harmless singles, he also struck out eleven and didn't walk anyone.

I posted a long diatribe about Ryan Theriot's lack of range in that recap; obviously, we're long past the time when any change is going to be made (especially with Ronny Cedeno now with a balky shoulder because of the dumb dive he made into 1B in NY last week). Theriot's the SS, for good or bad, for the duration. We can only hope that Kuroda's more hittable in game three than he was that night in June.

June 7 at Dodger Stadium -- Dodgers 7, Cubs 3:

Carlos Zambrano actually threw six good innings; unfortunately, his defense deserted him in the seventh, with Aramis Ramirez charged with one error and Kosuke Fukudome dropping a catchable fly ball (the latter would have ended the seventh inning with the score only 4-3 Dodgers). You simply can't give a major league team five outs in any inning and expect to win.

All of this was after the Cubs had fashioned leads of 2-0 and 3-2 against the tough Derek Lowe, and even though Z had given up a ton of hits, he had gotten out of every jam up to the point where Russell Martin homered to tie the game at 2. In fact, all three homers hit today -- Martin's, Alfonso Soriano's, and the killer three-run blast from Matt Kemp that put the game away -- didn't seem as if they were going to go out when they first left the bat. All seemed routine fly balls that wound up carrying; Dodger Stadium seems more conducive to that during the day than at night.

And those defensive lapses were the story of the game; otherwise Z and Lowe matched up pretty well, and once the game was out of hand, Neal Cotts threw an inning and a third without allowing anything else, saving the rest of the bullpen for tomorrow.

So -- the Cubs could have defeated Derek Lowe (who is 2-1, 3.25 in eight career starts vs. the Cubs) if they'd have played a more solid defensive game, and note that the Dodger homers were hit during a day game, when the ball carries better than at night; all the games in the division series are likely to be night games (the first three definitely are).

June 8 at Dodger Stadium -- Cubs 3, Dodgers 1:

Apart from Geovany Soto's throwing error on Juan Pierre's first-inning steal, which allowed Pierre to go to third and score on an infield out, the Cubs were nearly flawless in front of the national audience. Jason Marquis -- see, I knew he had this kind of talent, as Mark DeRosa said:

"I think sometimes he becomes his own worst enemy," DeRosa said. "He sometimes doesn't realize how great his stuff is. When he's on, he's tough to hit. He has a good sinker, he had good command of his slider and his split. He's a good pitcher. He's been a good pitcher in this league."

Exactly. Marquis threw strikes last night and had terrific movement on his pitches. If he hadn't run into trouble in the 7th inning, Lou might have let him finish, as he had thrown only 89 pitches when he was removed, but taking him out in favor of Carlos Marmol was the right thing to do.

Marquis probably won't pitch -- much -- in this series, but it's nice to know that he has this terrific outing, one of his best of the year, to think about if he winds up going against the Dodgers. LA, in fact, is one of his favorite opponents; in 9 career appearances against them (8 starts) he's 3-1, 1.99 in 54.1 innings.

So there you have it. For the Dodger fan's point of view please check out our SBN Dodgers site True Blue LA, and I also wanted to give a shout-out to my friend Rob McMillin's site that covers both the Dodgers and Angels, 6-4-2. (And Rob's wife Helen is a Cubs fan and occasional BCB poster.) In case you haven't already looked up my 2008 preseason predictions, there's the link; usually it's pretty embarrassing, but only half so this year. I nailed the NL playoff teams, all four of them. (Not so much for the AL, but at least I'm in good company; hardly anyone would have picked the Rays, White Sox or Twins back in March). I'll stand by my NL predictions for the postseason, too: the Cubs to win this series 3-1, and the Brewers over the Phillies, setting up what ought to be a terrific NLCS.