May 06, 2009

Series Preview: Cubs (14-12) at Astros (11-15)

Following their spring training-like game yesterday, the Cubs travel to Houston for another short series. How lame is a two-game series anyway? If I were a player, I'd rather see more 4 game series or maybe even 5 game series between teams than shorter ones like these - it must suck for traveling. I imagine the scheduling is built around the assumption that the same teams play on friday-saturday-sunday, since they can/have to play day games on the weekend. Still though, I'd much rather see more weeks where a team plays fri-sun at one place and mon-thursday at another one, or some other overlapping combo (thu-sun or fri-mon). For divisional foes it would seem especially important, because teams are less likely to dodge a bullet (or get unlucky) rotation-wise in a long series.

Honestly, I'm surprised the Astros are only 4 games below .500. Once again they have their usual aging stars-and-scrubs roster, which can have flashes of good baseball but is generally a prescription for diappointment. I think that the Cubs momentum (spring training game yesterday notwithstanding) keeps rolling into this series.

Pitching Probables:
Monday: Harden (R) (4.76, 3.1) v Mike Hampton (L) (4.3, 4.95), 7:05 PM

Hampton hasn't shown an ability to go deep in the games he's pitched, which means more work for a generally lousy bullpen. He is a groundball pitcher who's never been much of a power pitcher - he just needs to hope that the ball doesn't go to Tejada, who is well below average on defense, rather than the other infielders, who are pretty decent on defense. Blum especially surprised me with his UZR numbers - he's had double-digit UZR at third base for the past four seasons. As far as the Cubs go, we'll just have to see which Harden shows up. There was some chatter from Will Carroll (granted, not the greatest judge of Cubs pitchers) that Harden's stuff in his last start were largely a product of fatigue. There's not much you can do when you play so many games in a row though - it's not like the Cubs are going to run out 6 starters to save Harden's arm. Harden is the poster child of pitchers that you point to when people wonder why pitchers don't throw 300 innings a season anymore. There's no way his shoulder could take that kind of load, and his stuff is pretty special.

Tuesday: Lilly (L) (4.57, 4.3) v Russ Ortiz (R) (5.39, 5.0), 7:05 PM

Good Ted Lilly showed up in his last start against the Marlins, going 8 innings and striking out 10 batters with no walks. However, he was knocked around for 4 HR against the Astros in 5 innings (and still got the win, thanks to the Cubs jumping all over Brian Moehler in the first inning). That was some pretty low-leverage pitching though, and came right out of Lilly's WBC-shortened spring training. It will be interesting to see if he shuts them down this time. Ortiz came in as long relief after the Cubs chased Moehler and gave up a few more garbage-time runs (including a HR by Fontenot as soon as he came in the game). Ortiz is the kind of guy that the Cubs should jump all over - he has lousy stuff and has a hard time finding the strike zone.

Cubs sweep!