NLDS Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
I'm Rob McMillin, author of the Dodgers and Angels blog 6-4-2, and a long-time reader of Rich's The Baseball Analysts through several homes. Patrick Sullivan asked me to do a review of the Dodgers and Cubs in preparation for their upcoming National League Division Series, and so here I am.
The long-term regular-season matchup for the Dodgers versus the Cubs is remarkably even — as of the end of 2007, it was 1,009 wins and 1,007 losses for the Dodgers. But change that to the Los Angeles era, and it becomes much more lopsided, as the Dodgers won the all-time series 343-281. The 84-win 2008 Dodgers are 2-5 against the Cubs this year, but that record may prove fairly useless for predictive purposes when it comes down to the postseason.
While the main reason for this is the Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez, there are other mitigating factors in play. Along with David Mick of Another Cubs Blog, we'll take a look at both teams head-to-head and review the teams position-by-position. As always, rate stats are indicated as AVG/OBP/SLG (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging average).
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 6:30 PM ET on TBS - LAD (Derek Lowe) @ CHC (Ryan Dempster)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL LAD 48-33 36-45 84-78 CHC 55-26 42-38 97-64 Head-to-head results: CHC, 5-2
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ LAD 700 .264 .333 .399 .732 95 CHC 855 .278 .354 .443 .797 109
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+ LAD 648 .251 .315 .376 .691 120 CHC 671 .242 .316 .395 .711 117
Geovany Soto (.285/.364/.504, 563 PA, 23 HR) won the 2008 job behind the plate with his stellar performance in September of 2007. He's among the best catchers offensively and he's above average defensively. He missed the last few games the Cubs played because of a hand injury, which is something that has been recurring to Soto in 2008. The Cubs say he's ready to go for Game 1. Soto is most likely going to win Rookie of the Year in the NL, but what's more impressive is that among Cubs position players, nobody has been more productive.
Rob says: Soto has the edge mainly because of his offensive game.
David says: Edge goes to the Cubs.
Derrek Lee (.291/.361/.462, 698 PA, 20 HR) got off to a great start in April. He had a horrid May and the rest of the months were disappointing for Lee, the Cubs and their fans. He's essentially been a .750ish OPS hitter since April. Overall his numbers were still solid, but his defense is overrated (+1.1 runs) and his offensive skills are in decline. Lee's still capable of getting hot and if he could get hot like he was in April for these playoffs, an already outstanding offense becomes that much better.
Rob says: Cubs have the edge thanks to Lee's sizeable offensive prowess. It should be noted, however, that Lee hit eight home runs in April and hasn't hit more than two in a single month since May.
Dave says: Dodgers. Lee is a better offensive player than Loney, but Loney is about 13 runs better on defense. (ed note, nice call, Dave!)
Mike Fontenot (305/.395/.514, 284 PA, 9 HR) was probably the best role player in all of baseball this season. He's limited in that he can only play 2nd base, but he's had a very good defensive year and his offense has helped the Cubs when they need extra production the most. Fontenot won't play much against lefties (only 21 ABs in 2008), but the Dodgers have four righties starting in the series. His .398 wOBA was the highest on a team that led the league in runs scored.
Rob says: This is a clear win for the Cubs with the caveat that this matchup really shows the limitation of position-by-position analysis.
Dave says: Edge to the Cubs here.
Aramis Ramirez (.289/.380/.518, 645 PA, 27 HR) has more big hits since he joined the Cubs in 2003 than I can remember. On top of that, over the last 5 years he's been one of the best 3rd basemen year in and year out. In 2008 he improved his plate discipline and set a career high OBP of .380. The defense is above average as well. If the game is on the line, the Cubs want Aramis Ramirez at the plate.
Rob says: Another win for the Cubs, one which ends up quite large once you consider the gap between recent performance (Ramirez is hitting .342/.386/.566 in September).
Dave says: Cubs
Ryan Theriot (.307/.387/.359, 661 PA, 1 HR) is playing out of position. He's one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game (-9.7 runs). Lou still isn't asking for my advice so he's stuck at the position. Theriot did hit .300 this season and much more importantly, he posted an OBP of .387. Much like last year, Theriot faded down the stretch (.686 OPS in August, .660 OPS in September). Despite that, Theriot enters the NLDS 11 for his last 19 with 6 walks in that span.
Rob says: If Furcal is healthy, a huge if, he provides the Dodgers a win, but we won't know what Furcal we're getting until the postseason opens.
Ryan says: Dodgers. If Furcal doesn't play much then the edge goes to the Cubs.
Alfonso Soriano (.280/.344/.532, 503 PA, 29 HR) had had a disappointing year defensively. He had been so very good since he moved to LF in 2006, but the combination of age and leg injuries seems to have caught up with him. Soriano led the team in home runs despite missing about 50 games. I think he's the one offensive player the Cubs have who is capable of carrying the rest of the team. If Soriano doesn't hit in the postseason (and let's be honest, he hasn't done much of that in his career), the starters will have to be at the top of their game.
Rob says: The Dodgers win handily here.
Dave says: Dodgers. It's not even close. As good as Soriano is, he isn't Manny.
Jim Edmonds (.235/.343/.479, 298 PA, 19 HR) was picked up in May after an awful start with the Padres. As a longtime Cardinal, no Cubs fan wanted to root for Edmonds, but he made it remarkably easy to. It's as if he reverted back to the prime of his career. His .394 wOBA is 2nd on the team and his .568 slugging was the highest. My biggest concern at the time of the signing was his defense. Nobody could have predicted the offense and it turns out nobody could have predicted how well he'd play CF either. His .931 RZR was the highest since before 2004. His 45 OOZ were equal to 2005 in nearly 530 fewer innings.
Rob says: This is a slight edge to the Dodgers who don't have to give up average to get power, especially since the Dodgers won't be sending a lefty to the mound in the series.
Dave says: Cubs
Mark DeRosa (.285/.376/.481, 593 PA, 21 HR) had a career year in 2008. He took over RF for the struggling Fukudome in early September with Fontenot moving to 2nd against righties. DeRosa isn't your typical RF. He's an infielder by trade, but in his big league career he's proven he can play just about anywhere. He adds above average defense in RF as well. He posted a .382 wOBA in 2008 and like so many of the other Cubs, his OBP was very good (.376).
Rob says: This represents a substantial win for the Dodgers, whether Piniella starts DeRosa or Fukudome.
Dave says: Cubs. Like 1st base, defense is the deciding factor here. Ethier and DeRosa have had similar years offensively (.382 wOBA for DeRosa, .385 wOBA for Ehtier), but DeRosa is 15.8 runs better defensively. Just after I finished writing this, I noticed that DeRosa's left calf may still be too sore for him to play RF, which means Fukudome would play RF with either DeRosa or Fontenot at 2nd. If that's the case, edge to the Dodgers.
After a futile dalliance with Gary Bennett earlier in the season, the Dodgers settled on Danny Ardoin as their reserve catcher.
Angel Berroa may get a start at short if Rafael Furcal doesn't feel up to it or is showing he's obviously not ready to play. Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent will provide right-handed power off the bench unless Ted Lilly is starting. Pablo Ozuna will almost certainly be relegated to the role of late-innings defensive replacement for Casey Blake, and the od pinch-running job.
Both teams are carrying only one reserve outfielder. In the Dodgers' case, Juan Pierre is likely to be a designated pinch-runner; his starting days were all but over in the regular season, and it's hard to imagine Joe Torre using him for anything else. Felix Pie doesn't seem likely to get much playing time after he played himself out of the outfield. This is a wash, not that it much matters.
Reed Johnson has been the other half of the CF platoon and since the Dodgers are throwing righties at the Cubs, he won't get much playing time. Like Edmonds, he was picked up after his former team released him and the 2 of them have combined to put together a very good season for the Cubs in CF. Johnson can hit lefties rather well, doesn't field as well as some may think, but has had a real good season for the Cubs.
Kosuke Fukudome lost his starting job sometime in late August or early September after months of struggling to hit the ball. He won't be asked to do that much in the playoffs and he'll get a chance to be a defensive replacement. His defense is matched by only a few in all of baseball. He is spectacular on with the glove. Just can't hit.
Others: Ronny Cedeno (INF), Henry Blanco (C). Felix Pie (CF), Daryle Ward (1B/RF)
Rob says: Too close to call.
Dave says: I'll call it even because in that few plate appearances, literally anything is possible.
Derek Lowe 14-11, 3.24 ERA, 211 IP, 136 ERA+
Derek Lowe had early trouble but has come on strong in the second half with a 2.38 ERA. His key is getting outs on the ground with his heavy sinker; if he's giving up line drives, something's wrong with his game. Chad Billingsley is the staff's real ace, and many expect this NLDS will be his coming-out party; he hasn't attracted a lot of national attention because of a fairly slow start. He's whiffing about a batter an inning, while walking less than half that (201/80 K/BB). Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get from Hiroki Kuroda, seven scoreless innings or seven runs in the first. That overstates things, though, as Kuroda has been about what the Dodgers had expected despite some injury problems in midseason.
Ryan Dempster 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 206.2 IP, 152 ERA+
Ryan Dempster was closing games for the Cubs the last 3 years and now he's starting Game 1 in the playoffs. He's earned it. In only one start this year did Dempster allow more than 4 earned runs. He allowed 4 in only 5 starts. 22 times he's allowed 2 or fewer runs. He posted a 2.96 ERA this year, which stunned just about everybody. He's been the best starter the Cubs have had from start to finish.
Carlos Zambrano has had a couple of injuries in the 2nd half. They say neither is serious, but you never know. His first half was tremendous and he appeared to be more consistent than I had ever seen him. Then the 2nd half started and he was also consistent. Consistently not very good. Despite the no-hitter, Zambrano could just never get settled back down after coming back from injury.
Rich Harden has been unbelievable as a Cub. In 71 innings, he's allowed only 4.94 hits per 9 and has struck out 11.28 per 9. His ERA is 1.77. I'm still getting familiarized by Rich Harden, but from what I can gather, if he can take the mound, odds are your team is going to win the ballgame. In 9 of his 12 starts with the Cubs he allowed 1 or 0 runs. He allowed 2 runs twice and in the other start he allowed 4 runs.
Ted Lilly is coming off 4 consecutive wins giving him a career high 17. Lilly got off to a terrible start posting a 6.46 ERA in April. He posted a 3.33 ERA after the break and held hitters to a .223 batting average. Ted has had severe reverse splits in 2008. From 2005-2007 righties posted a .756 OPS and lefties a .712 OPS against Lilly. That's typical. But in 2008, lefties have hit him for a .928 OPS and righties only a .673 OPS. He's developed a cutter this year that he uses on right handed hitters and it has worked very well. He's not throwing the big over the top hook as often so that may be why the lefties are hitting him better. Maybe it's just sample size.
Rob says: Despite a formidable rotation on both sides, the Cubs have a slight advantage because Dempster and Harden are perhaps a bit better than Lowe and Kuroda, and also because they won't be asking their starters to work a three-man rotation.
Dave says: Dodgers. They have the advantage in Games 1, 2 and 5 if necessary. I don't think it's a huge edge by any means. I think Lowe and Dempster are quite similar and their numbers are comparable. Billingsley has a big advantage over Zambrano, Harden has a big advantage over Kuroda, Lilly has a good advantage over Maddux and then we're back to the Game 1 starters for Game 5. Fairly close, but overall edge to the Dodgers.
Joe Beimel 5-1, 2.02 ERA, 49 IP, 219 ERA+
The Dodgers have a far superior bullpen to the Cubs in general, but there are holes on both sides that are likely somewhat illusory. The Dodgers won't see Jason Marquis or Bobby Howry except in a blowout, and similarly, the Cubs won't see Greg Maddux or Scott Proctor, and possibly Chan-Ho Park. The two teams are actually closer than you might think, because Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' former closer, hasn't been quite the same since returning from a midseason injury that forced the Dodgers to give an extended look to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Neither team's closer is a sure thing, as their ERAs attest, but they have been good all year.
The Dodgers use Park in middle relief, though he has been decreasingly effective as the season has worn on. Despite underwhelming stuff, Cory Wade has quietly assembled an excellent season, and will likely see substantial work. The Dodgers' late decision to add James McDonald to the postseason roster could mean they intend to use him anywhere, but I include him here; like Wade, he doesn't have the best stuff, but the late callup from AA has managed to suppress offense in small samples. The Dodgers will likely call on Joe Beimel to face lefties, where he has generally been very useful.
Neal Cotts 0-2, 4.29 ERA, 35.2 IP, 105 ERA+
Kerry Wood took over for Ryan Dempster as the team's closer this year. He's done a pretty good job. He's been spotty at times. 3.31 ERA, 6 blown saves, but he's allowed a measly .638 OPS. He's converted 10 of his last 11 saves.
Carlos Marmol is good at sports. That's something we'll occasionally say around my parts after Marmol has just made a few hitters look silly. He's allowed a .135 batting average against. A .507 OPS. He's allowed 4.12 hits per 9. He walks his fair share of batters and is prone to giving up the long ball. He went through a really tough stretch in June that saw his ERA balloon from 1.75 up to 3.61 prior to the All-Star break. Since then it's been only 1.29.
Bob Howry has had a pretty bad season after several stellar years as a closer and a set-up man. To give you an idea how bad it's been for Howry this year, the month of September was his most promising month. He only made 9 appearances as Lou was kind of afraid to keep giving him the ball, but 7 of those were scoreless ones in a row. Unfortunately, they were bookended by an outing on September 2nd in which he didn't record an out and allowed 4 earned runs. On the final day the season he gave up a couple runs. So in Bob's most consistent month he still managed to have an ERA of 8.10.
Neal Cotts is the Cubs LOOGY. Lefties have hit .269/.329/.522 against him this year in 67 at-bats. This has been an issue lately for the Cubs and it likely will be one at some point in the NLDS.
OTHERS: Jeff Samardzija (7th inning, groundballs, wide receiver), Sean Marshall (long/middle relief, LOOGY), Jason Marquis (long/middle relief)
Rob says: The Dodgers have a far superior bullpen to the Cubs in general, but there are holes on both sides that are likely somewhat illusory. The Dodgers won't see Jason Marquis or Bobby Howry except in a blowout, and similarly, the Cubs won't see Greg Maddux or Scott Proctor, and possibly Chan-Ho Park. The two teams are actually closer than you might think, because Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' former closer, hasn't been quite the same since returning from a midseason injury that forced the Dodgers to give an extended look to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Neither team's closer is a sure thing.
Dave says: Dodgers. They beat the Cubs at pretty much every spot in the bullpen.
Rob says: (ed note: He abstained.)
Dave says: I feel that based on what I've written above I should say I think this will go down to the 5th game. But I don't think it will. I think the Cubs win this series in no more than 4 games. I'll go with Cubs in 4 because Bill James' log5 method gives the Cubs the highest odds of winning it in 4 at 22.5%. I think the Dodgers offense is improved with Manny, but it's still not equal to the Cubs lineup. The Cubs have a rather large edge offensively, as well as defensively, that I think the Cubs advance to the NLCS.