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October 4, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Saturday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Brewers (90-72), 5:35 p.m. CT, TBS
Probable Starters: Jamie Moyer (196 1/3 IP, 3.90 RA, 1.33 WHIP, 123 K) vs. David Bush (185, 4.48, 1.14, 109)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA); Milwaukee, 87-75 (750 RS, 689 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #5; Milwaukee, #9
Series Favorite: Phillies, 82.4% (Up 2-0)
Prospectus: Fifty-four teams have gone down 0-2 in best-of-five series prior to this year, and seven of those have come back to win the next three games—just 13 percent. Brewers manager Dale Sveum has been in a similar position before, as he was the third-base coach of the 2004 Red Sox, who of course beat much worse odds to turn around a three-games-to-none deficit in the ALCS. Sveum will entrust the ball tonight to Bush, who faces a stiff challenge in getting his club on the comeback trail, as he is a pitcher prone to giving up home runs (29 this year, or 1.4 HR/9) going up against the National League's best homer-hitting club. Bush gave up four long balls in his two starts against Philly this year, three of them in an April outing at Miller Park.

It won't matter whether or not Bush can keep the Phils in the yard if his teammates don't start putting more runners on base, however: through the first two games Milwaukee has only seven hits in 61 at-bats, for a batting line of .115/.194/.164. Left-handers are generally tasty fare for Brewers' bats, although the crafty Moyer has limited Milwaukee to four runs over 11 2/3 innings in his two starts against the Crew this year. Moyer carries with him into tonight's potential clincher a 2.43 ERA in 29 2/3 post-season innings, most of those having come with the Mariners.

A Pennsylvania native, Bush grew up rooting for the Phillies, and said that he "vividly" remembers being heartbroken at the end of the 1993 season, when the Phils came up short in the World Series against Toronto. Moyer was a Phils fan from birth as well, but given that he's 17 years older than Bush, the heroes of his youth were not Mitch Williams, John Kruk, and Lenny Dykstra, but rather Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and the other members of the late-'70s/early-'80s Philly teams that won the NL East five out of six seasons. Both Bush and Moyer were raised in the Philadelphia suburbs, with Bush attending Conestoga High School and Moyer attending Souderton High. Moyer is a Philly man through and through; he stayed in the city to go to college at St. Joseph's, and is now living out every kid's childhood dream in trying to pitch his hometown team towards its first championship since 1980. Bush actually was a catcher in high school and a closer at Wake Forest, not making the conversion to starting pitcher until his second pro campaign in 2003, at which point Moyer was already 40 years old and entering his 17th season as a major league starter.

Thanks to John Perrotto for research assistance.

Matchup: Cubs (97-64) at Dodgers (84-78), 7:05 p.m. PT, TBS
Probable Starters: Rich Harden (148 IP, 2.31 RA, 1.06 WHIP, 181 K) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (183 1/3, 4.17, 1.22, 116)
Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 98-63 (855 RS, 671 RA); Los Angeles, 87-75 (700 RS, 648 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #2; Los Angeles, #11
Series Favorite: Dodgers, 86.2% (Up 2-0)
Prospectus: The best team in the National League this season could be eliminated from the playoffs tonight, along with all hope for the end of the Cubs' century-long title drought. Many seemed sure that this was finally the year on the North Side, but in order for that faith to be rewarded the Cubs will have to do something only one team has done before: come back to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two at home. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 22 teams lost the first two of a best-of-five series at home before this season, and the 2001 Yankees are the lone squad that was able to climb out from such a hole. The manager of that Yankees team will be sitting in the home dugout tonight at Chavez Ravine. Before they can think about an epic comeback, Lou Piniella's Cubs will have to break their eight-game post-season losing streak, which dates back to that fateful 2003 NLCS against Florida.

Chicago's season will now be carried on the fragile right shoulder of Rich Harden. That shoulder was recently revealed to have received a cortisone shot around a month ago to alleviate the discomfort Harden had been feeling; the pain and subsequent shot explains why the right-hander had 12 days off between his outing on August 29 and the next time he took the mound, September 11. Harden pitched reasonably well after the treatment, surrendering six runs in 17 innings, but did struggle with his command, walking 12 in the three-start span against 14 strikeouts. Still, Harden should at the very least keep the Cubs in the game: in all but two of his 25 starts this season he went five innings or more and gave up no more than three runs. His per-start standard deviation of SNLVAR, or Flake rating, was 0.179 combined between Oakland and Chicago this year, lower than that of every pitcher in baseball with at least 140 innings save John Maine.

Kuroda, meanwhile, was nearly the exact opposite of Harden on the reliability scale this season. At times, he was brilliant—two complete-game shutouts, including a one-hitter of the Braves, two outings in which he threw seven shutout innings, and a number of other quality performances. But he has also shown a tendency to blow up—he allowed six or more runs on four occasions, and failed to make it out of the fourth inning in five of his outings. Kuroda led all NL starters who qualified for the ERA title with a Flake of 0.281. Dodgers fans have to be feeling confident that their Japanese import will have his good stuff tonight, however, for Kuroda pitched very well versus Chicago this season: one of his complete-game shutouts was thrown versus the Cubs at Dodger Stadium on June 6, a four hit, no walk, 11-strikeout gem, which followed up on an outing at Wrigley two starts earlier in which he gave up two runs in 6 1/3 innings. Those 11 Ks against Chicago in June were a season high; in no other start did he fan more than seven.

Game Two was miserable for the Cubs, in large part because each member of their infield committed an error. Two of those, by Mark DeRosa at second and Derrek Lee at first, led to four huge unearned runs in the second inning that essentially ended the game. As Jay Jaffe said in Thursday's roundtable chat, "Wow, and the Cubs infield errors for the cycle," which turns out to be a pretty rare feat. The last team to do it was the Brewers, in a July 1999 game against Kansas City. It happened a total of 10 times in the 1990s, but not once since then. If DeRosa's injured left calf feels well enough for him to play the outfield tonight, he will likely be shifted to right to make room for Mike Fontenot at second. If not DeRosa, Reed Johnson or Felix Pie will get the call in right, for Piniella has decided to sit Kosuke Fukduome for the time being after his 0-for-8 showing in the first two games: "From now on, I don't want to hear about Fukudome anymore as far as whether he's going to play or not. I'm going to play Fontenot or Reed Johnson or somebody else, and that's the end of that story. The kid is struggling, and there's no sense sending him out there anymore."

Thanks to Jason Paré for research assistance.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  Chicago Cubs,  The Call-up

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