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Cubs vs. Giants Preview, Tuesday 9/21, 7:05 CT: A Real Live Pennant Race

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The only team hotter in the major leagues right now than the Cubs is the Phillies, who have won eight straight. While the Cubs are long out of contention, they will spend at least the next three days having a major say in the NL West and wild card races -- and so will the Phillies, who are playing the Braves, the current wild card leader.

David Pinto, who runs the excellent site Baseball Musings, runs a series called "Massive Tie Scenario" every year around this time, posting about what it would take to create a four- or five-way tie for postseason positions. This year, as he writes, the Massive Tie Scenario actually has a fair chance of happening:

The Phillies did their best to kill the chances of a five-way tie in the National League by defeating the Braves Monday night. However, they did increase the chances of a four-way tie between the Braves and the three wild card contenders. We can still get a tie at 93 wins:
    * Colorado Rockies 11-2
    * San Diego Padres 10-3
    * San Francisco Giants 9-3
    * Atlanta Braves 7-4
    * Philadelphia Phillies 3-8
Note that if you drop the Phillies, you get the standing for a four-way tie, and if you drop the Braves, you then get the results for the most likely tie, a three-way in the NL West.

One of the best ways to begin to create this scenario, he says, is for the Cubs to beat the Giants tonight. I'm all for that. In case you were wondering how a four-way tie (for two spots, the NL West and wild card) would be broken, here's the answer:

The three NL West teams would play a two-day single elimination tournament to determine the NL West winner. The three remaining teams would then play a two-day, single elimination tournament to determine the Wild Card winner.

So it would take four days to settle all this -- delaying the start of the division series. The Cubs can have an impact on this over the next ten days, taking on the Giants and then the Padres.

Cubs lineup via tweet from CubsInsider:

#Cubs lineup vs. #Giants (9/21): DeWitt 2B, Castro SS, Byrd CF, Ramirez 3B, Nady 1B, Fukudome RF, Soriano LF, Hill C, Zambrano P
Today's Starting Pitchers
Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano
Cubs
vs. Matt Cain
Matt Cain
Giants
9-6 W-L 12-10
3.75 ERA 3.08
99 SO 163
57 BB 58
7 HR 18
vs. SF -- vs. Cubs

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2010 - Carlos Zambrano 9-6 39 17 0 0 0 0 110.1 110 52 46 7 57 99 3.75 1.51


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2010 - Matt Cain 12-10 32 30 3 2 0 0 204.1 167 76 70 18 58 163 3.08 1.10

After having scored only one run off Matt Cain in four starts between 2007 and 2009, the Cubs got three in six innings off him on August 12 in San Francisco, a game where the Cubs came from a 7-3 deficit to tie before losing. Cain struck out nine that day; Starlin Castro had two hits off him.

Carlos Zambrano made his return to the Cubs' rotation on August 9 in San Francisco; he threw a shaky five innings and walked seven, but gave up only four hits and two runs. His starts since then have ranged from good to outstanding, and he has not allowed more than two runs in any of the eight starts since his return. Big Z needs 10 strikeouts to pass Charlie Root into 2nd place on the all-time Cubs list; it would seem more likely he'd do it in his next start, but it's possible tonight -- he has at least eight K's in three of his last five starts.

It's expected to be a warm, humid and windy night at Wrigley, but it's possible we'll get an old-fashioned pitcher's duel.

Today's game is on the CSN's: Chicago and Bay Area. Here is the complete MLB.com Mediacenter for today.

MLB.com Gameday

Baseball-reference.com game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Giants site McCovey Chronicles.

Today's first pitch thread will be up at 7 pm CDT, and the overflows will post at 8 pm, 9 pm and 9:45 pm CDT.

Discuss amongst yourselves.