Dodgers, Cubs … a preview of another October series?

Updated: May 28, 2009

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers' pitchers have made the ride a bit smoother without Manny Ramirez.

This weekend's Dodgers-Cubs series is a fascinating matchup, as it always is between these clubs. They have been playing each other since 1890, and entering this series they were exactly .500 against each other.

Before Thursday's game the lifetime series record was 1,012-1,012-14. Amazingly, in their long history -- 2,038 games' worth -- they were dead even. That alone is a pretty good setup for any series, but what makes it even more compelling is that, in the preseason, many considered these two of the best teams in the National League and this weekend a possible preview of the 2009 NLCS. They met a year ago in the playoffs, when Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers swept the Cubs.

While there is all sorts of intrigue and subplots to this weekend, one thing that doesn't appear to hold much mystery is the race in the NL West right now. The Dodgers are that good. We all understand that the rest of the division is not that good. Still, the thought of the Padres winning 10 games in a row and still finding themselves 7½ out of first before the end of May tells you how dominant the Dodgers have been this year with, and without, Manny.

We've seen how good the Dodgers are offensively. We know their infield defense is absolutely terrific, but we've also found that their pitching has been better than people thought. Chad Billingsley, Friday's starter, is a really, really good pitcher and has made great strides in each of the past two years. The rest of the staff has been a pleasant surprise as well. Eric Stults and Eric Milton were not even supposed to be in the Dodgers' rotation, but both of those guys have done pretty well. It proves how well this team is put together. It would be absolutely astonishing if they don't win the division. In fact, they should do so pretty handily, maybe by 15 games or so.
Featured Series: Dodgers at Cubs
Dodgers (Chad Billingsley) at Cubs (Ted Lilly), 2:20 ET
Dodgers (Eric Stults) at Cubs (Ryan Dempster), 4:10 ET
Dodgers (Eric Milton) at Yankees (Sean Marshall), 8:05 ET

The Cubs are a somewhat different story. They led the league in runs scored last year, but they've recently been stuck in the lower fourth of the league, which just doesn't make sense. They are going to start to hit. You know guys like Milton Bradley, Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto and Mike Fontenot will get going at some point. Perhaps the bigger concern right now is their pitching. Rich Harden is on the disabled list. Ryan Dempster, Saturday's starter, has just not been as dominant as he was last season, when he was really, really good.

They have some things to work out as a team, but the danger for the Cubs is that they are in a more competitive division than Los Angeles. The St. Louis Cardinals, especially, are playing very well. Some thought before the season that the Cubs had a chance to win the NL Central going away, but it just doesn't look like that's going to happen. They still should win the division, but it's going to be a lot harder than most people, including myself, thought. The Cardinals should push them right to the end, and it wouldn't be a shock to see St. Louis win the wild card.

The Cubs should be OK. Logically, you've got to think they will start putting things together here soon because they're not nearly as bad as they've been playing so far.

Another storyline from this series to consider: Bradley played for the Dodgers and had some tumultuous seasons there. But one of the things I'm most looking forward to in this series is two Hall of Fame-caliber managers, Joe Torre and Lou Piniella. Their demeanors are different and they have a sharp contrast of styles, but they have made both of them work.

With all the history in this series, it's possible both teams will leave without taking historical bragging rights. It's a four-game series, and a split would leave them both with 1,014 wins against each other with 14 ties, even more symmetrical than before.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: May 27 | May 26 | May 25 | May 24 | May 21


Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
J. Crede, Min9BosBeckettBot 2: 0-1, 1 Outs. None on.
J. Varitek, Bos9MinSwarzakTop 5: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
J. Varitek, Bos10MinSwarzakTop 7: 2-1, 0 Outs. None on.
W. Aybar, TB3CleLewisTop 6: 1-0, 1 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Thursday's homers


Red Sox at Blue Jays

The Blue Jays limp into the series, having lost nine in a row to fall two games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. Waiting for the Jays will be Tim Wakefield (6-2), Brad Penny (5-1) and Jon Lester (3-5). While Lester has a losing record, he had no trouble with Toronto two starts ago.

Reds at Brewers

The Reds have won four in a row and five of six to pull within 1½ games of first in the NL Central. The teams' pitching staffs match up well, with Cincinnati fifth in the NL in ERA (3.97) and Milwaukee sixth (4.07). How good is the pitching in the NL Central? The Cardinals are first, giving the NL Central three in the top six in ERA in the league.

Cardinals at Giants

Barry Zito pitches Saturday, and it's hard to tell if he is again in a rut or just the victim of bad fortune. He has lost three consecutive starts to fall to 1-5 on the season. In each start, though, he has gone at least 6 1/3 innings and not given up more than five runs in any of those outings. His ERA remains at a respectable 4.02.

For the rest of Friday's schedule, click here. To see what's on tap for Saturday, click here. And for Sunday's full slate of games, click here.


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12 a.m. ET
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Orestes Destrade, Eric Young


10 p.m. ET
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Orestes Destrade, Eric Young
1:30 a.m. ET
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Orestes Destrade, Eric Young


12:30 p.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Dave Winfield, Chris Singleton, John Kruk
7 p.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Dave Winfield, Chris Singleton, John Kruk



Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he takes a look at Jason Varitek, who went deep twice -- and was ejected -- in the Red Sox's 3-1 victory over the Twins:

Jason Varitek's improving SLG
2008 2009
vs. RHP .323 .452
vs. LHP .484 .862
vs. fastballs .378 .584



Luke ScottLuke Scott has been back from the disabled list for two games. How has he done? In two games, he has three home runs and seven RBIs. He hit a home run in his first at-bat off the DL in Wednesday's win against Toronto, then followed it up with a pair of homers and four RBIs in a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
Derek LoweDerek Lowe wasn't quite himself in a 5-2 loss against the Diamondbacks. He gave up 10 hits and all of Arizona's runs over seven innings. The 10 hits were the most he has given up this season and marked only the second time all season he has given up at least five runs in a start.


Mark Teixeira The New York Yankees handed lefty first baseman Mark Teixeira an eight-year, $180 million contract this offseason, but Teixeira struggled right off the bat. He hit .198 over the team's first 28 games as the Yanks stumbled to a 13-15 record.

Then Alex Rodriguez returned to the club May 8, sliding into the lineup behind Teixeira. Since then, Teixeira is hitting .373 with 10 homers and the Yankees have gone 14-5.

But A-Rod's return hasn't directly resulted in Teixeira's improvement.

Teixeira is better because he is demolishing the fastballs that he's seen, even though he's seen roughly the same amount as he did before A-Rod's return.

Where he's really taken advantage is the fastball on the outer third of the plate. Teixeira and the Yankees travel to Cleveland to take on the Indians this weekend.

Mark Teixeira
2009 stats vs. fastballs away
Before A-Rod Since A-Rod's return
BA .241 .524
SLG .276 1.143
Pct. of FB away 48.5 49.7
Miss pct. 13.5 12.5

-- ESPN Stats & Information


Adam Madison examines the 16 games on Friday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Friday. Daily Notes