Cubs-Diamondbacks series preview

Cubs-Diamondbacks series preview

A capsule look at the Cubs-Diamondbacks playoff series
ASSOCIATED PRESS

A look at the best-of-five National League division series between the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks:

Schedule: (All times Eastern) Game 1, Wednesday, at Arizona (10:07 p.m.); Game 2, Thursday, at Arizona (10:07 p.m.); Game 3, Saturday, at Chicago (6:07 p.m.); x-Game 4, Sunday, at Chicago (1:07 p.m.); x-Game 5, Tuesday, at Arizona (10:07 p.m.). (All games on TBS, except Game 4, which is on TNT).

x-if necessary.

Season Series: Arizona won 4-2.

Projected Lineups

Cubs:
LF Alfonso Soriano (.299, 33 HR - including 14 in September - 70 RBIs, 19 SB), SS Ryan Theriot (.266, 3, 45, 28 SB), 1B Derrek Lee (.317, 22, 82), RF Cliff Floyd (.284, 9, 45), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.310, 26, 101), 2B Mark DeRosa (.293, 10, 72), CF Jacque Jones (.285, 5, 66), C Jason Kendall (.270, 1, 19) or Geovany Soto (.389, 3, 8).

Diamondbacks: CF Chris Young (.237, 32 HR, 68 RBIs, 27 SB), SS Stephen Drew (.238, 12, 60), LF Eric Byrnes (.286, 21, 83, 103 runs, 50 SB), 1B Conor Jackson (.284, 15, 60) or Tony Clark (.249, 17, 51), 3B Mark Reynolds (.279, 17, 62), C Chris Snyder (.252, 13, 47), RF Jeff Salazar (.277, 1, 10) or Justin Upton (.221, 2, 11), 2B Augie Ojeda (.274, 1, 12).

Projected Rotations

Cubs:
RH Carlos Zambrano (18-13, 3.95 ERA), LH Ted Lilly (15-8, 3.83), LH Rich Hill (11-8, 3.92), RH Jason Marquis (12-9, 4.60).

Diamondbacks: RH Brandon Webb (18-10, 3.01 ERA, 194 strikeouts, LH Doug Davis (13-12, 4.25), RH Livan Hernandez (11-11, 4.93), RH Micah Owings (8-8, 4.30).

Relievers

Cubs:
RH Ryan Dempster (2-7, 4.73, 28/31 saves), RH Bobby Howry (6-7. 3.32), RH Carlos Marmol (5-1, 1.43), LH Scott Eyre (2-1, 4.13), RH Michael Wuertz (2-3, 3.48), RH Kerry Wood (1-1, 3.33), LH Sean Marshall (7-8, 3.92 in 21 games, including 19 starts).

Diamondbacks: RH Jose Valverde (1-4, 2.66, NL-high 47/53 saves, RH Brandon Lyon (6-4, 2.68), RH Tony Pena (5-4, 3.27), RH Juan Cruz (6-1, 3.10), LH Doug Slaten (3-2, 2.72), RH Edgar Gonzalez (8-4, 5.03).

Matchups

The Phoenix area is loaded with Cubs fans, so expect the support at Chase Field to be divided. ... The Diamondbacks are making the fourth playoff appearance of their 10-season history but first since 2001. Unlike the earlier teams, this one is almost entirely homegrown, the result of what has been arguably the best farm system in baseball. ... Despite starting four rookies and having the worst batting average in the league (.250), the Diamondbacks had the NL's best record 90-72 and earned the home-field edge. ... Arizona is the first team in 101 years to have the best record in the league despite the worst batting average - the 1906 Chicago White Sox (.246) were the only others to do it. ... Tracy is 4-for-5 in his career against Zambrano. ... Derrek Lee is 4-for-22 with 12 strikeouts against Davis, but has hit two homers. ... Floyd is 13-for-41 against Hernandez with two homers, eight RBIs and seven walks. ... Ramirez is 10-for-26 with three doubles, four homers and nine RBIs against Hernandez.

Big Picture Cubs: After a slow start and falling nine games under .500 in early June, the Cubs took off after a dirt-kicking tirade by manager Lou Piniella on June 2. Chicago trailed Milwaukee by 8 1/2 games on June 23 but finally overtook the Brewers. ... Zambrano, who punched catcher Michael Barrett, went on a hot streak, cooled off, signed a $91.5 million, five-year contract extension and then won the division-clinching game on the final Friday of the regular season. ... Beginning the final week with a 3 1/2-game lead, the Cubs lost three straight at Florida and looked on the verge of one of their colossal collapses before regrouping to win the next night in Cincinnati and capture their first division title since 2003. ... After struggling to hit long ball all season, the Cubs hit a club-record 45 in September, including 14 by Soriano. ... Marmol had a scoreless streak over 20 innings before giving up a homer against Florida. ... The addition of Pacific Coast League MVP Geovany Soto in final month has given Cubs another bat and better defense behind the plate. ... Marquis, who has looked shaky in his last couple of outings, was left off the Cardinals' playoff roster a year ago. If the opening series goes to a fourth game, Cubs could bring Zambrano back on short rest. Marquis had a 6.21 ERA in September.

Diamondbacks: Arizona is perhaps the most unlikely of the playoff teams with a starting lineup that includes rookies at shortstop (Drew), center field (Young), right field (Salazar or Upton) and third base (Reynolds). In addition, 1B Jackson is in only his second season. ... The stats reveal a weak-hitting club, but the Diamondbacks got timely ones from a variety of players, leading to their motto of ''Anybody, Anytime.'' They won 32 one-run games. ... Webb, the 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner, won a career-best 18 games. Arizona's starters ranked fourth in the NL with a 4.23 ERA, behind the Cubs (4.19) and Padres (4.08). ... Arizona's bullpen was a strength throughout the season. Valverde has a penchant for making things interesting ... Manager Bob Melvin's even-keeled personality was just right for the young players on the roster. He got considerable help from bench coach Kirk Gibson, who knows what it's like to play in pressure-packed games. ... Clark was a leader in the clubhouse and a steady force on the field. ... Byrnes had a career year and got a big contract extension during the season. ... The Diamondbacks kept winning despite season-ending injuries to RHP Randy Johnson, 3B Chad Tracy and All-Star 2B Orlando Hudson. Arizona lost eight of 10 going in to the All-Star break but went 21-5 during one stretch after that and finished 43-29 after the break.

Watch For

- Don't Run on Alfonso. After recovering from a leg injury, Soriano has become the player the Cubs expected when they gave him a $136 million, eight-year contract. His 14 homers in the final month jumped-started the offense but his defense has been vital, as well. He has 19 outfield assists and thrown out runners fast and slow with a unique sidearm delivery that gets the ball there in a hurry and with great accuracy.

- Catching on. The Cubs have gone through several catchers this season after trading Barrett to San Diego. They got veteran Jason Kendall from Oakland and his offense has been OK, but he's been susceptible to the stolen base. That's why rookie Geovay Soto, the player of the year in the Pacific Coast League and a late-season callup, could see a lot of time in the postseason. He's also got power.

- Cramping Carlos. Zambrano had a couple of bouts with heat cramping. Whether it was his overly emotional style or his small intake of water that caused the problem, it can be a concern, especially in a short series.

- Learned Lou. Piniella was more of a mix-and-matcher this season as he tried to figure out the best lineup combinations for his new team. Now the man who took the Reds to a surprising World Series winner in 1990 can use his wisdom from years in the game and try to get the Cubs to a place they haven't been since 1945 - the World Series.

- Youth Under Fire. The young Diamondbacks will tested for the first time by playoff pressure. 3B Mark Reynolds was at Double-A Mobile when he was called up following the injury to Chad Tracy. RF Justin Upton, barely 20 years old, started the season at Class A Lancaster.

- Dome Home? The Phoenix area is Cubs country, thanks largely to the team's longtime spring training presence in nearby Mesa. There could be as many Cubs fans as Diamondback fans at the team's home games. Arizona was 50-31 at home, just behind Milwaukee (51-30) for best in the league. Colorado also was 50-31 at home.

- D-Backs Speed. Arizona is fast and aggressive on the bases, which has helped them manufacture runs to win close games.

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Re: Cubs-Diamondbacks series preview

NLDS preview & pick: Cubs vs. Diamondbacks
Covers.com

The National League playoff picture is finally painted with the Arizona Diamondbacks, winners of the NL West and best team in the league, taking on the Chicago Cubs, who are out to end 99 years of World Series drought.

These clubs met six times in 2007 with the Diamondbacks taking four of those games, two of them inside Wrigley Field. Arizona managed to nullify the Cubs lineup and got clutch home runs during these contests, which has been the blueprint for its success this year.

Chicago travels to the desert for the opening two games of the division series. It is 7-23 in its last 30 games in Arizona despite having a strong fan base in Phoenix due to the location of its spring training camp in nearby Mesa. Game 1 is scheduled for Wednesday with D-Backs ace Brandon Webb taking the hill against Cubbies star right-hander Carlos Zambrano.

Here's what we can expect from the series.

CHICAGO CUBS

Why they’ll win: For a while it seemed like no one wanted to win the NL Central. Chicago eventually pulled ahead in baseball’s weakest division with a 17-11 record in September.

The Cubs haven’t performed consistently at the plate all season but managed to turn those troubles around in September. Chicago closed the season with its best month in the box, batting .282 and knocking out a franchise-record 45 home runs. First baseman Derek Lee found his power stroke and hit .365 with seven dingers while Jacque Jones, Alfonso Soriano and Mark DeRosa all batted over .300 in September.

Chicago's bats heated up at the right time to provide support for a pitching staff that excelled most of the season. The staff ranked in the top 10 in most pitching categories, including a big-league best 1,211 strikeouts in 2007. Zambrano will start Game 1 in Arizona this Wednesday and lefty Ted Lilly is penciled in for Game 2. Starters Rich Hill and Jason Marquis are the probable choices for Game 3 and the possible Game 4.

The Cubs lost four of six to the Diamondbacks this year despite posting a collective 2.94 ERA against Arizona. In its two wins over the D-Backs, Chicago’s staff held their opponent to just two runs per game.

Why they’ll lose: Chicago didn't hit with power for most of the year, but heated up in September. If the switch is turned off in the playoffs it could find itself in a standoff with one of the majors’ top clutch teams. Arizona loved to squeeze out close wins, taking 32 victories this season by one run. The Cubs bats only scored a combined seven runs in their four losses to Arizona this season while putting up six runs in both of their wins.

If the bats fail to provide support, Chicago will have to rely on its bullpen. The Cubs have one of the best bullpen in the NL but it isn’t without its holes. Right-handers Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry headline a reliever corps that is without a solid left-handed middle man. Add to that weakness the shaky second half of closer Ryan Dempster, who posted an embarrassing 7.90 ERA in September after giving up 12 runs in just over 13 innings of work.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Why they’ll win: When the going gets tough, that’s when the Arizona Diamondbacks get going. The Desert Snakes had the most closely contested games in the NL this season, depending on solid pitching and timely hitting to steal wins.

Arizona’s 4.31 collective ERA since the break led the club to a 43-29 second half, leapfrogging ahead of then-NL West leaders San Diego and Los Angeles. Webb was literally unhittable at times but suffered a dip in September. He gets the nod in Game 1 while left-hander Doug Davis, who also had a rough September, goes Thursday in Game 2. Veteran hurler Livan Hernandez is the probable choice for Game 3 in the Windy City and rookie pitcher Micah Owings could go in Game 4 if necessary.

The D-Backs staff hasn’t needed much help from a lineup that ranked near the basement in most offensive categories. Arizona was the worst hitting team in the NL after the All-Star break but improved during the final month, bumping their batting average by 20 points to .272 in September. Rookie third baseman Mark Reynolds was the only Diamondbacks player to hit .300 last month, but he did get help from Stephen Drew, Eric Byrnes and Chris Young.

D-Backs fans can also thank their team's bullpen, which ranks among the best in baseball. All-Star closer Jose Valverde led the majors in saves with 47 this year and middle relievers Brandon Lyon and Tony Pena topped the NL in holds. The Diamondbacks held Chicago to a .239 batting average against and posted a 3.06 ERA during their six meetings this season.

Why they’ll lose: Arizona's pitching survived this season with minimal run support. Arizona averaged under five runs per game and batted only .205 versus Chicago this season. If the Cubs bats continue to produce like they did in September the Diamondbacks might not be able to answer at the plate.

The rotation is also coming off a shaky final month of the season, going 15-11 with a 4.28 team ERA. Webb’s numbers took a hit after he put up his highest monthly ERA of the season and Davis went 1-1 in five September starts with an ERA over 5.00. Arizona lost five of its last seven games to end the regular season.

Prediction: Chicago Cubs in five games

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NL Division Series Breakdown - Chicago vs. Arizona
The Sports Network

PROJECTED PITCHING MATCHUPS

October 3, 10:00 p.m. - Carlos Zambrano vs. Brandon Webb

October 4, 10:00 p.m. - Ted Lilly vs. Doug Davis

October 6, 6:00 p.m. - Livan Hernandez vs. Rich Hill

2007 SEASON SERIES: Diamondbacks won, 4-2.

Even though Arizona won four of six against Chicago in the regular season, the playoffs are a whole new ball game. The Diamondbacks won the NL West with a league-high 90 wins, while the Cubs captured the Central division in a close race with Milwaukee.

The first two games of the 2007 NLDS will open on Wednesday at Chase Field before the series shifts back to historic Wrigley Field for Game 3. If necessary, Game 4 will take place in Chicago and, if need be, Arizona will host the fifth and final matchup in the desert.

Brandon Webb, the 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner, gets the ball in the opener and will square off with Carlos Zambrano. Webb's numbers this season are overshadowed by San Diego ace Jake Peavy for the Cy Young Award. But Webb is probably more satisfied in helping the D'backs reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season than personal accolades.

Chicago went on a huge spending spree this offseason and won the NL Central division by the skin of its teeth. But after finishing with a 66-96 mark in 2006, the Cubs decided it was time for a managerial change and named Lou Piniella the 50th skipper in team history last October.

The move paid off and Piniella has the Cubs in the postseason for the first time since the infamous Steve Bartman incident during the 2003 NLCS versus the Florida Marlins. Florida, of course, went on to win the series and a World Series title.

Here are three big questions entering the series.

1. CAN BRANDON WEBB CARRY HIS REGULAR-SEASON MOMENTUM INTO THE PLAYOFFS AND SILENCE CHICAGO'S BATS?

Webb suffered his first-ever loss to the Cubs on July 20 this season at Wrigley Field. He was reached for three runs -- two earned -- in seven innings of a 6-2 setback. The loss dropped him to 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA in seven career starts against the Cubs.

In that game, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez drove in the tying run and scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning. He later added a three-run homer to lift Chicago. Jacque Jones drove in a pair of runs, while Alfonso Soriano ended 0-for-4 at the plate.

Since that loss, Webb has been practically unstoppable with a 10-2 record in his last 13 starts of the regular season. Webb lasted no less than 5 1/3 innings in each of those starts, and he will surely carry that momentum into Wednesday's start. Webb is unbeaten over his last five trips to the mound.

Webb may not keep Chicago's bats completely quiet in Game 1, but is the only Arizona starter who gives the team a shot at winning. Soriano has one hit in seven career at-bats with four strikeouts against Webb, while Lee is 2-for-5 lifetime versus the ace. Aramis Ramirez is batting .238 (5-for-21) with a home run in his career against Webb.

2. LOU PINIELLA HAS MORE THAN ENOUGH POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE. DOES THAT MATTER?

You bet it does.

When it comes down to making decisions that are best for the club at a crucial time in the game, Cubs skipper Lou Piniella will rise to the occasion. Remember, Piniella said when he was introduced that this team will succeed.

Piniella earned the trust of team president John McDonough after making a myriad of changes to the lineup and dealing with rookies, injuries and fist fights between teammates. Arizona manager Bob Melvin manages with a laid-back attitude, and that got the club this far. How far it will carry the D'backs in the postseason is another issue.

Piniella won two World Series titles with the New York Yankees as a player before guiding the Cincinnati Reds to a championship in 1990. Piniella then recorded a 116-win season with the Seattle Mariners in 2001. Put his short stint with Tampa Bay in the closet because it doesn't matter.

Sweet Lou is making his 11th appearance in the postseason and sixth as a manager. And yes, his baseball experience is a vital cog for Chicago's chances of ending a 99-year championship drought.

3. WHO WILL BREAK THROUGH IN ARIZONA'S YOUNG LINEUP?

The Diamondbacks scored the third fewest runs of any team in the National League with 712. San Francisco and Washington scored fewer runs.

That will play a big role in this series for Bob Melvin's club, which will rely on young center fielder Chris Young to keep up the good work. In 148 games this season, Young batted .237 with 32 home runs -- nine of which were in the leadoff spot -- and 68 RBI.

Young recorded a hit 19 of the 25 games he played in during September with five multi-hit games, four home runs and 16 RBI.

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Re: Cubs-Diamondbacks series preview

Trachsel, Ohman, Marshall off Cubs' roster for first-round series
ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHOENIX -- Right-hander Steve Trachsel, and lefties Will Ohman and Sean Marshall were dropped by the Chicago Cubs for their first-round playoff series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Rookie right-hander Kevin Hart was among the 11 pitchers picked Wednesday for the Cubs' NL division series roster.

Hart had an 0.82 ERA in eight games after being promoted from Double-A Tennessee on Sept. 4. He also pitched at Triple-A Iowa this season.

The Cubs have only one left-handed reliever - Scott Eyre. Jason Marquis, a starter during the regular season, made the roster. Manager Lou Piniella said Marquis could pitch in Game 4 on Sunday night, although he's also considering starting Carlos Zambrano on three days' rest.

Chicago also left off outfielder Craig Monroe and catcher Henry Blanco. The Cubs are carrying two catchers: rookie Geovany Soto, who was set to start Wednesday night's opener against Arizona, and Jason Kendall.

Arizona also will carry 11 pitchers, including Doug Slaten, its only left-handed reliever. The Diamondbacks kept speedy rookie infielder Alberto Callaspo but left off another, Emilio Bonifacio.

Arizona has three catchers - starter Chris Snyder, Miguel Montero and Robby Hammock, who also can play the infield and outfield.

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