From the very first day of Spring Training, the general consensus has been that This Is The Cubs' Year. (This has caused me considerable frightened quivering, pretty much from the get-go.) It's not just the 100 years thing either. It's difficult to argue that the Cubs haven't been the best team in the National League, if not in all of baseball, the entire season. But it's the Postseason Crapshoot, and a strong argument could be made that the Dodgers are the worst possible first-round opponent for the Cubs. (It would have been tough for them not to sweep the Mets, for example.) Here we are, Cubs. We'll find out if it was all worth it. Series Schedule Game 1: Wednesday, October 1, 6:30 p.m. Los Angeles (Lowe) at Chicago (Dempster). Game 2: Thursday, October 2, 9:30 p.m. Los Angeles (Billingsley) at Chicago (Zambrano). Game 3: Saturday, October 4, 10 p.m. Chicago (Harden) at Los Angeles (Kuroda). Game 4 (if necessary): Sunday, October 5, TBA. Chicago at Los Angeles. Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, October 7, TBA. Los Angeles at Chicago. SEVEN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE CUBS-DODGERS SERIES 1. You'll See A Lot More Jim Edmonds than Reed Johnson. The strength of the Dodgers rotation is their righthanded pitching, and the Cubs, as luck would have it, are packed with righthanded hitters. The Wrigley folk don't really have a lefthanded guy (other than Edmonds, who is likely to hit one home run this series and go 1-for-12) to break up Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, so on. None of the Dodgers starters are shutdown guys, but if Carlos Zambrano blows up in Game 2, as many fear, they're certainly more stable.
2. Oh, Yes, Carlos. Carlos Zambrano has had an active couple of weeks, and his no-hitter was the least of it. Actually, it might have been the problem: Lou Piniella (understandably) left Zambrano in to finish the no-hitter, but he went far past his pitch count. That — and the death of his grandmother, which necessitated an emergency trip back to Venezuela — might have had something to do with his last two starts, in which he has been shelled. Zambrano is either going to shut out the Dodgers or give up six runs in the first three innings. A team as talented as the Cubs could probably do without such wild fluctuation.
3. Sigh. OK, Fine, Manny. I've never understood why MLB still splits players' stats when they switch leagues midseason. Now that interleague play is here, no one differentiates between the AL and the NL anymore; I assume Brett Favre's stats from Sunday still count even though they came against an NFC team. (Actually, they came against the Buzzsaw, which might require a statistical adjustment.) Anyway, because Manny's stats are split, you can't quite tell how amazing he's been this year: 37 homers, 121 RBIs, .332 average. And with the splits, in Los Angeles in 53 games, he hit nearly .400 and slugged .743, which, if extended to a whole season, would be the 14th best mark of all time. (Fittingly, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth each had FOUR seasons that were better.) That is to say: He's hotter right now than he has ever been. It might not have been the smartest career move, and it sure makes him look like a dick, but Manny is a terror right now.
4. Do They Really Want Those Guys Back? Obviously, Manny's explosion is the main reason the Dodgers took off in the second half, but another factor was the injury to Jeff Kent, which forced Joe Torre to finally take him out of the lineup. This allowed the Dodgers' young hitters (Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, so on) to benefit from Manny's presence, rather than the decrepit Kent canceling him out. Well, Kent's trying to come back now, as is Rafael Furcal, who said he used the last series of the season against the Giants as "Spring Training." As happy as everyone is to see such a friendly, amiable chap like Jeff Kent get one last postseason run — really! — it kind of feels like the old guys trying to shoehorn in on the phone. The Dodgers have been doing fine. Leave them be, you yokel.
(With thanks to my old pal CSTB.) 5. The Cubs Have Their Bullpen All Out Of Order. While watching the Cubs clinch the division over my beloved Cardinals at Wrigley Field a couple of weeks ago, I had one pleasing moment: When Piniella pulled Carlos Marmol (who was destroying us; it was clear every Cardinal gave up after the first pitch) for Kerry Wood in the ninth inning. Wood did the job, but Marmol is a decidedly scarier guy to face; Wood can be shaky, to say the least. So don't despair, Dodgers fans, if you're down by one going into the ninth after being blown away by Marmol.
6. Don't Bother Going Into Work Friday, Cubs Fans. Not to harp on the lateness of these games, but Game 2, thanks to TBS, is starting at 9:30 p.m. ET, and that's assuming the Brewers-Phillies game beforehand is on time. Now, I don't mean to imply that Cubs fans might be a little rowdy after drinking all day and night before an absurdly late local start time, but, well ...
7. The Fear. Cubs fans have done an admirable job of putting a brave facade of confidence this season. My friend MIke, who loves the Cubs the way I love the Cardinals, goes so far as to say that this team has no historical connection to the Cubs' past whatsoever, that he doesn't even worry about "history" and "curses" and "the fact that we're talking about the Cubs here." But you wait: The minute something goes wrong in these playoffs — and something will, no matter what happens — the fans are going to revert immediately back to The Panic. It's inevitable, and the players will feel it too. If they can recover from that moment, when all looks lost, when the Cubs remember they're the Cubs, they can pull this off. But I remain less than convinced.
PREDICTION Zambrano gets smoked in Game 2, but the Cubs sneak one out in LA. Game 5 comes down to Kerry Wood against Manny in the top of the ninth. Hmm. Well, for now: Cubs in five.