Dodgers won't be a pushover for favored Cubs
Originally Published: September 29, 2008By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine
If the regular-season series between the Cubs and Dodgers is any indication, this is going to be a low-scoring, very close NLDS.In the six games between the two teams, there were a total of 37 runs scored, there were two one-run games, two two-run games, a three-run game and a four-run game. There were no blowouts, and there was lots of good pitching. Even though the Cubs are the best-hitting team in the National League, and the Cubs will see Manny Ramirez for the first time as a member of the Dodgers, look for well-pitched, low-scoring games. Anyway, here are five questions heading into the series:
What is the Manny effect?Manny Ramirez has changed the look and the approach of the Dodgers' lineup, and it goes beyond the 17 homers and 53 RBIs (he's second player ever to drive in 50 runs for two teams in the same season) that he had in the last two months. Before Ramirez arrived, the young Dodgers hitters were often undisciplined at the plate. Plus, said a club source, "they were more concerned about their statistics, not whether we won or lost the game.'' Ramirez hasn't changed all of that by himself, but the Dodgers are more selective and taking better at-bats. In September, they averaged 5.4 runs per game. They outscored their opponents, 135-86, after barely outscoring their opponents in the first five months of the season combined.
Is there a Z Factor?Cubs ace (?) Carlos Zambrano has had an interesting last few weeks. First, he had a tired arm that some thought was something serious, then he threw a no-hitter, then he got lit up a couple of times. So, where is he now? That's unclear. All we know is he's scheduled to start Game 2 behind Ryan Dempster. Rich Harden is slated to start Game 3. A former teammate of Zambrano was asked recently if Zambrano was up for the pressure of starting a Game 1 of the playoffs. "No,'' the teammate said. "He has a big heart and big stones, but he'll be way too fired up. He can't even calm down for the first game of the season, let alone the first game of the playoffs.'' Maybe he'll be different in Game 3. He's as good a Game 3 pitcher as you'll find.
How good is the Dodgers' pitching?It is very good. They led the NL in ERA, and posted a 3.15 ERA in September. They will start, in order, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda.