A Pitcher or a Glass of Water
The Cubs are at the point now where they can plan their starting rotation and begin to make bullpen choices and start thinking about final roster selections for the NLDS.
Here is how I think the Cubs should do it:
10/1 - NLDS GAME 1: Pitcher "A"
10/2 - NLDS GAME 2: Pitcher "B"
10/3 - OFF DAY
10/4 - NLDS GAME 3: Pitcher "C"
10/5 - NLDS GAME 4 (if necessary): Pitcher "D"
10/6 - OFF DAY
10/7 - GAME 5 (if necessary): Pitcher "B" (on 4 days rest), with Pitcher "A" in the bullpen for Game #4 and Game #5, and (depending on how many pitches he throws in Game #1), possibly for Game #3 as well .
Personally, I'd go with Dempster-Zambrano in Games 1-2 of the NLDS, making ex-closer Dempster available to work out of the bullpen in both Game #4 & Game #5 (and possibly in Game #3, too). Then I'd go with Lilly in Game #3 and Harden in Game #4 (if necessary). Another possibility would be to start Harden in Game #3 and Ted Lilly in Game #4, making Lilly available to work out of the bullpen (limited to one inning or less) in Game #1.
But having Dempster start Game #1 of the NLDS and then be available to work out of the bullpen in both Game #4 and Game #5 could really help the bullpen depth if the series goes four or five games, especially given the way the Cubs middle-relievers have pitched lately.
Because the best-of-five NLDS has less margin for error than does the best-of-seven NLCS, the Cubs need to do whatever it takes to maximize their chances of getting successfully through the LDS and into the LCS, even if it means using starters out of the bullpen. It's the proverbial "all hands on deck."
Since he threw 115+ pitches in his last start, I'd like to see the Cubs give Rich Harden an extra day of rest before his next start (I'd start him Wednesday night instead of Tuesday night, and I'd limit his pitch count to around 80), and I'd totally skip Zambrano until Game #2 of the NLDS. "Z" pitched great on 12 days rest (he threw a no-hitter), and with his recent history of rotator cuff tendinitis, more rest can't hurt. In the meantime, Lou can keep Zambrano happy and involved by using him as a PH.
It also might be a good idea to put Sean Marshall back on an extended "starter's routine" through the rest of the regular season, with a five-inning/80-pitch (max) start next Tuesday in New York and possibly another start a week from tomorrow in Milwaukee. He would then be available to throw multiple innings in the NLDS (emergency spot-start, long relief, or extra innings) if necessary.
And even though he hasn't worked out of the bullpen since 2003 in Atlanta, I'd also keep Jason Marquis on the NLDS roster and use him as a back-up middle-reliever, since the other bullpen options (Howry, Samardzija, Wuertz, et al) look kind of shaky right now. Marquis would also give Lou an extra bat off the bench or a PR in a pinch, and a fall-back option in case Harden or Zambrano get scratched from a start at the last minute. So to help acclimate him to relief work, I'd probably be inclined to give Marquis one more start (Monday night in New York) and then work him out of the bullpen a couple of times next weekend in Milwaukee, although I would go ahead and have him make a start next Saturday if the Brewers are still alive and in hot contention.
If Wood, Marmol, Cotts, Marshall, and Marquis are five of the seven relievers, that leaves two slots open. Chad Gaudin (back strain) is presently working out with the Cubs AZ Instructional League team at Fitch Park (AZIL games start Monday), and while he is probably not close to returning to action at the moment, hopefully he can get himself back into shape over the next couple of weeks such that he can be a member of the Cubs bullpen in the NLDS.
If Gaudin can get back into shape, that leaves one opening in the pen. Bob Howry probably gets that spot just because of his MLB experience, but Jeff Samardzija is likely still in the mix in case Lou just can't stomach Howry or in case Gaudin isn't ready.
Of the other candidates (Angel Guzman, Kevin Hart, Randy Wells, and Michael Wuertz), Wells has pitched the best lately (albeit in limited opportunities) and has the type of ex-catcher's "rubber arm" where he can throw a lot, but Hart and Wuertz were on the Cubs NLDS roster last year and that could be a factor in their favor. How each of the candidates throws the last week of the regular season will probably be the primary determining factor in filling the final couple of slots in the Cubs bullpen for the NLDS.
The bottom line is, middle relief stands out as the Cubs one glaring weakness, and it can't be fixed (as far as the 2008 post-season is concerned) by making a trade.
While Howry, Samardzija, Wells, Hart, Wuertz, and Guzman hopefully will get plenty of opportunities to show what they can (or cannot) do over the last week of the regular season, Wood and Marmol need to have their outings minimized, throwing just often enough to to stay shap (like don't use either of them two days in a row, instead preferably one inning every-other day or maybe even one inning every-third day).
Since he is still not 100% back from TJS and because he has yet to throw two days in a row at any time this season, Guzman is probably not under consideration for the post-season roster. It doesn't help Gooz's chances that while he is throwing 94-96, he has pitched ineffectively when Lou has given him opportunities to throw in games. The Cubs will probably want him to pitch in the Venezuelan Winter League this off-season, and then come to ST 2009 prepared to battle for a spot in the bullpen.
With an 11-man pitching staff likely for the NLDS, that means an extra position player can be kept on the bench. Micah Hoffpauir and Felix Pie are probably the two candidates, and each offers something different. Pie can play CF, PR and PH, while Hoffpauir can provide a left-handed power-bat off the bench. I suspect Pie gets the edge in the NLDS and NLCS (if the Cubs get that far) just because Hoffpauir basically duplicates Daryle Ward, but if the Cubs do manage to get to the World Series, I would expect Hoffpauir (not Pie) to be the 14th man and serve as the DH.
Last year the Cubs kept five players (Sean Marshall, Will Ohman, Henry Blanco, Craig Monroe, and Sam Fuld) who were not on their NLDS roster around as "fellow travelers" (potential injury replacements) while they played the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. It's likely the Cubs will do the same this year, keeping two or three pitchers, a catcher (Koyie Hill), and a position player or two (Pie or Hoffpauir, plus possibly Casey McGehee) in ready-reserve throughout the post-season.
Keep in mind that MLB clubs can alter/tweak their 25-man (active) roster before each post-season series, and because Chad Fox, Rich Hill, and Jon Lieber are on the DL, the Cubs have three roster exemptions available (four if Chad Gaudin is on the DL) for each post-season series, allowing them to add up to three players (four if Gaudin is out of action) to their NLDS, NLCS, and WS rosters who were not on the Cubs 25-man roster (or 15-day or 60-day DL) on 8/31.
Also, if a player suffers a disabling injury during the LDS, LCS, or WS, the injured player can (with approval of the MLB Commissioner) be replaced during the series by a player who plays the same position (a pitcher must replace a pitcher, a catcher must replace a catcher, and an IF/OF must replace an IF/OF), although if that happens, the injured player is ineligible to return at any future point in the post-season.