On to Game 2, and I don’t want to demean Chad Billingsley here, but he’s not tonight’s story. Don’t get me wrong – Billingsley ascended to become the true ace of the staff that so many had predicted he would be, and he was even better in the second half than the first, going 7-2 with a 2.99 ERA. In fact, save for a lousy outing in Pittsburgh on September 17th, Billingsley would have gone nearly three months without allowing more than three earned runs in a game, dating back to July 8th vs. Atlanta. That’s impressive for anyone, much less a kid who’s just turned 24. Sure, there’s always the worry that the postseason will shake a young player, although he did throw two scoreless innings in relief against the Mets two years ago. But Billingsley has been remarkably consistent and reliable all year long – you know that he’s going to give the Dodgers a good chance to win tonight, especially since no Cub has really had any success against him. The only Cub who’s even seen him more than ten times is Jim Edmonds, who managed only one hit in those eleven tries.
No, now that the Cubs are down a game, the entire series hinges on the biggest question mark on either team, and that’s including all the health questions LA has about Furcal and Kent – what can you expect out of Carlos Zambrano? While you pretty much know what you’re going to get from Billingsley, you have no idea whether Zambrano is going to give the Dodgers offense no chance whatsoever or single-handedly torpedo the Cubs season. Just look at his game logs to see how schizophrenic this guy is. I mean, what can you say about a guy who threw a no-hitter on September 14th, but still had his ERA for the month end up at 7.08? In two of his five starts in August, he gave up just one earned run – but was so lousy in the other three, his ERA for the month still ended up at 7.43.
Just looking at his monthly totals, you can see how all-or-nothing he is. Before his two awful months to close out the year, his July ERA was 1.78, which is fantastic. But before that, his June ERA was an awful 5.68! And before that, his May ERA was 2.45. I don’t know how Cubs fans deal, because I’m getting infuriated with him just writing this post.
Fittingly, he had two starts against the Dodgers, and there’s no middle ground here. On May 28th in Chicago, he was masterful, allowing just one run and four hits over eight innings – although I must point out that the Dodger lineup that night included Juan Pierre, Luis Maza (remember him?) and Chin-Lung Hu, a far cry from their current replacements of Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, and Rafael Furcal. Yet just over a week later on June 7th in Los Angeles, Zambrano got absolutely shelled, allowing 13 hits and 7 runs in 6.2 innings - including homers to Russell Martin and Matt Kemp.
In fact, Martin is one of the only Dodgers to have any career success against Zambrano, along with Andre Either. Martin’s got eight hits in thirteen at-bats for a glowing .615 average, and Ethier’s six for thirteen, which gets him a .462. Unfortunately, Zambrano’s dominated Kent, Pierre, and Furcal, holding all three of them below a .250 average.
But really, all that matter is which Zambrano shows up. Is it going to be the one who was just a walk short of a perfect game three weeks ago against Houston? Or the one who allowed 13 runs and 7 walks in 6.1 innings over 2 starts since?
Hey, at least the Chicago papers aren’t freaking out yet…
If this is what the rest of the Cubs’ postseason is going to look like, it’s going to be a short playoff run.
And a long century.
Not to put pressure on Carlos Zambrano, but the Cubs need to win Game 2 of their National League Division Series against the Dodgers late Thursday night, or it could be going on 101 years since the Cubs have won a World Series.
How about the national media, say, Dayn Perry of FOXsports.com?
To be sure, it’s far from over, but the Cubs have put themselves in an unenviable position. Since the Division Series was instituted, there have been 52 such best-of-five affairs, and teams that take the opening contest have won 35 of those 52 series. In other words, the team that wins Game 1 of the Division Series goes on to win the entire series more than two-thirds of the time. So in that regard, the Cubs are working against history. They’re also working against an opponent that’s much improved.
It’s such an odd feeling, this “success”, isn’t it? The importance of winning Game 1 simply cannot be overstated – this is now a must-win for Chicago, while the Dodgers know they go home no worse than tied. Game 2! Tonight!
- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness