Quote of the day #1: "We won 90 games. We won the National League West. We've already shocked everybody. Why not continue to shock them? And you know what? For some reason, if it doesn't work out, so what? But we're going to go out on our terms, playing our asses off." -- Orlando Hudson
Quote of the day #2: "I tell these guys all the time: Keep watching your Bugs Bunny cartoons when you go home, keep eating your Cheerios and keep winning ballgames. It's worked so far." -- Orlando Hudson
Here we go. Finally, playoff baseball has returned to Phoenix, five years after being ignominiously swept in the first round. We hope it enjoys staying here, and decides to stick around a little longer this time. Most people are expecting the Cubs to take this one, right through to Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus, who is predicting a Cubs sweep. Has a team with the best record in the league, ever received so little respect? I don't seem to recall everyone writing off the Mets last season.
Still, no big, and the reaction of the most of the team seems to be mild amusement or indifference, rather than panic or desperation. Let's face it, we beat the Cubs four times in six games this season already, so it's not as if they hold a dominating hold over us this year. They certainly earn a lot more than the Diamondbacks though, don't they? But as Bickley points out, the pressure is all on Chicago. They have the superstars. They have the expectations. They have the "passionate" fan-base. They have a curse which will flip the odometer over to three digits if they don't win it all this year. Sucks to be them.
Good pair of point-counterpoint articles over at Hardball Times, even if I say so myself, seeing as I wrote one of them! As noted, I came up with reasons why Arizona will win, and Tim Dierkes with why Chicago will win. Dierkes goes through the lineups, doing match-ups - glad I decided not to do that! - and it's hard to argue with the conclusion, based on the stats, that the Cubs have the edge. But, leaning heavily on research by Dr. Shoewizard, I countered with the fact that the NL Central pitching faced by the Cubs, sucks, so the gap in offense is likely much less than anticipated. Thanks to everyone else who chipped in on that discussion in the diary.
Melvin has already announced his lineup for tonight:
- Chris Young, CF
- Stephen Drew, SS
- Eric Byrnes, LF
- Tony Clark, 1B
- Mark Reynolds, 3B
- Jeff Salazar, RF
- Chris Snyder, C
- Augie Ojeda, 2B
- Webb, P.
It's clear that Melvin is targetting Zambrano's relative weakness against left-handers, who bat .268 against him, compared to only .200 for righties. Very few of the D-backs have faced him before: six is the most plate-appearances, shared by Jeff Cirillo and...er, Doug Davis, who is actually 2-for-6 lifetime, so perhaps the team should be clustered around his locker, looking for tips.
I anticipate getting the Gameday Thread up around lunchtime, so there'll be plenty of time to discuss expectations, hopes and fears. But a couple of thoughts in advance. Webb needs to get his game on early, post a few zeroes: odds are good of that, since opponents bat .216 against him through the front three innings. That will hopefully allow the offense to go out there and take the lead, because from the last series at Chase, that will suck the wind out of the Cubs fans' very quickly: they only sing when they're winning. Once we've recaptured Chase Field, we can then go on to take the game.
A little psychology couldn't hurt, because certain members of the Cubs team have temperaments best described as volatile and fragile. Yes, I'm talking about you, Mr. Zambrano. Get him riled, get him wild. Maybe plunk him between the shoulders with a fast-ball, to throw him off his game. Get men on base, and opponents hit 20 points better off him. He's particularly tough on the first batter in the inning (they hit .219) so it's going to be crucial to work the counts. He probably won't go deep - he only pitched past the seventh two times in his last seventeen starts - and they will probably be keen to keep his pitches down, since he's scheduled to start Game 4 on short rest. So, get rid of him before six innings.
Game one promises to be crucial, almost a must-win, for both teams. It sets the tone for the series: Arizona's starting pitching has questionmarks, so they need to win with their ace, while the Cubs have shown a tendency to react badly to failure. Just ask Michael Barrett. :-) A loss could send them into a death-spiral. It's going to be a tense few hours until first pitch at 7pm.