It's not that I have any good reason to be, losing the first game of a five game series seems to be pretty close to a death sentence. I believe the stat being bandied about is 24 of 28 NLDS Game 1 winners have gone on to win the series, although it' s only 14-14 for the ALDS (that's what I heard on XM this morning). Now, I have no idea why the disparity between two leagues and there's really no logical explanation on why the designated hitter would make a difference, so I'll chalk it up to just one of those statistical oddities that litter baseball's history. Nonetheless, circumstances don't favor the Cubs to win this series.
As for why I think the Cubs are still going to, you should all know that I still believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Okay, that's silly, everyone knows it's just your parents sneaking into your room with a quarter for your incisors. I mean, what kind of rationale being collects teeth? And I have yet to meet a bunny that lays eggs. But no one has still given me a good explanation on how that Atari 2600 showed up for Christmas when I was five, so I'm sticking with the man in the red suit.
As for this series, in the theater of my mind, I saw the Cubs dropping Game 1 and that's why I picked them to win it in four. I just didn't like the match-up of Lowe vs. Dempster. Lowe seems to have had great success against us, especially in Wrigley, and despite the extremely impressive season Dempster had, he's still too walk-happy for my tastes. It's not that I even think it was the wrong decision to start him in Game 1, because other than a healthy Rich Harden, I wouldn't have liked any match-up against Derek Lowe in Game 1.
But I like Zambrano going tonight on the blind assumption that his shoulder is 100%, hell I'd take 80%. And if he does pitch well tonight, I don't doubt that Lou will go with him in a Game 5 over Dempster if the series gets that far. The Dodgers do counter with one of my favorite young pitchers in baseball, Chad Billingsley, but for many of the reasons I didn't trust Dempster last night, I don't like the odds that Billingsley does much against the Cubs. It's his first postseason start, he's a bit too walk happy and he's a good 50 innings over his career max already. Now he had a solid September, but I've already mentioned how it was against some of the worst teams and offenses in the league.
Am I being overly optimistic? Probably, but heck, this is how I envisioned the series to be played out, a Game 1 loss followed by three straight Cubs wins. I could be proven wrong at any point over the next three games, but I'll keep believing until that happens.
As for last night, a few concerns, thoughts, general misery...
- Dempster certainly was wild, but that home plate umpire's erractic strike zone didn't help matters one bit. And that James Loney grand slam had to be one of the more, "I can't believe that just happened" moments I've witnessed as a Cubs fans. Dempster was all over the place already that inning having walked two in a row and the bases loaded and Loney comes up hacking on the first two pitches, two pitches that were out of the zone. I really thought the Cubs caught a break there and then Dempster leaves one up and Loney suddenly takes a good swing.
- While I'm normally no big fan of small ball, I mentioned in an earlier preview that it might be wise for the Cubs to try and put pressure on a mediocre Dodgers defense. In the 5th though, with a groundball specialist on the mound and "Double Play" Lee at the plate, Lou failed to send Fukudome from first and Lee hit into the inevitable rally killer. Now it probably wouldn't have mattered on that particular play as Lee hit it right up the middle, but it's concerning that Lou seemed content to wait for the big hit, rather than try and make some things happen when the opportunity presented itself.
Quick sidenote, how did they give Casey Blake an error on that ball that Fukudome reached on? Blake was playing in protecting for the bunt and Fukudome rocketed the ball off of him. That's a tough error call.
- Back to playing small ball, with the lead still just two runs in the sixth, Aramis Ramirez doubled. Soto was unable to advance him to third base, staring at two strikes over the outside corner before striking out. Concerning once again that the Cubs hitters didn't adapt to the situation that presented itself.
- Finally, the bullpen sure did nothing to ease our fears. Sean Marshall's outing was pretty decent and I just can't fault him for that home run to Manny Ramirez which Manny hit off his shoe tops. Yet he still gave up a run in what was still a very close game. And yeah, Samardzija got burned a bit by a bad defensive play by Edmonds, but still gave up a run. And there's no excuse for Marquis, he just kind of sucks. But 4.1 IP from the bullpen and three runs just isn't very reassuring.
- On a positive note, the Cubs already have as many extra base hits as they did in all of last year's Division Series.
- On an negative note, the Cubs have lost 7 post-season games in a row.
So there we have it, a LONG wait until Game 2 starts and let me tell you, casa de Rob G. was not a happy place last night after the Cubs and Angels games. it doesn't help that I'm surrounded by Dodgers fans at the office either. Hopefully the Cubs give me some ammunition to fight with after tonight.
UPDATE: Just to clarify that LDS stat that I heard this morning - by my count, the Wild Card started in 1995 which would mean 26 NLDS series. There also a division series round in 1981 because of the strike. As for random quirks that don't mean a thing, the four NL teams that overcame a first game defeat.
2003 Marlins - won World Series
2000 Mets - went to World Series
1999 Braves - went to World Series
1981 Dodgers - won World Series
Remarkably, all those teams played the Yankees in the World Series.