Sunday, October 5, 2008

A sweep and a berth in the NLCS!!!

So much for this finally being the year the Chicago Cubs broke their curse.

If you were to listen to all of the so-called "experts" before this series, you would not have thought the Dodgers even belonged on the same field as the Cubs. Turns out, it was the opposite. The Dodgers survived a close one last night in Dodger Stadium to hold off the Cubs and sweep the NLDS by a score of 3-1.

The game featured a pretty good pitching matchup of Hiroki Kuroda against Rich Harden. Kuroda had been great against the Cubs in 2 starts this year, which included a complete game shutout at home. Harden was acquired by the Cubs for reasons like this - to give the Cubs a boost just when they needed it.

Harden wasn't that bad, but his rough first inning set the tone for the rest of the night. After Kuroda stranded a couple, the Dodgers went to work. Rafael Furcal popped up to 3rd to start things off, but Russell Martin hit his first of 2 doubles. Manny Ramirez found a hole to sneak a single by, and Martin barely beat the throw to 3rd. James Loney continued his amazing play with a double to score both for the 2-0 lead.

The Cubs must have thought it would be another long night, but to their credit, they kept battling back. 2 innings in a row (3rd and 4th), they would put 2 men on base, but could never get that 1 big hit that would have boosted them. Instead, they looked like they were all trying to hit the ball to the moon with 2 outs, where the Dodgers' approach to the plate was much more disciplined. And that was your difference these 3 games.

In the 5th, the Dodgers tacked on another run when Martin doubled home Furcal, who had walked. That run would prove to be big as the game would get tight later. Having more than a 1 run cushion was key in the Dodgers' bullpen relaxing and getting tough outs when they needed them in my mind.

The Cubs once again had chances in the 7th to score, but came up empty. Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome singled to chase Kuroda for Cory Wade. Alfonso Soriano, who was just plain awful at the plate all series, flew out, and Mike Fontenot lined out to Matt Kemp. That was a close one, as Kemp had to reach back to make the catch going backwards.

Up 3-0 in the 8th, the Cubs finally made a little noise, as Darryl Ward's pinch-hit single scored Derek Lee with 2 down. Jonathan Broxton came in and blew away Mark DeRosa in perhaps the biggest at-bat of the year for both teams. Broxton continued to bring the heat to put the Cubs down in order in the 9th, ending with a K of Soriano as the party was on.

The big first inning as a nice lift for the Dodgers, but their pitching was what won this game. Kuroda, in his first postseason start of his career, including Japan, went 6.1 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. Like Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley before him, he was brilliant. Constantly getting ahead of the hitters, he let his stuff take over. Wade gave up a run in 1.1 innings, but still pitched well. Broxton just blew away all 4 hitters in his path. Consistent, big pitching all around.

The top of the order of Raffy, Martin, and Manny got on base 7 times, which was just like the other 2 games. Their ability to get timely hits set the stage all series. Unlike the heart of the Cubs' order, the Dodgers were able to drive them home with clutch hits. The Cubs - not so much. I guess scratching and clawing their way into the playoffs really helped the Dodgers relax and just play ball. Contrast that to the Cubs constantly hearing about all of that "curse" talk, and they wilted under pressure.

So with another party in LA, they now get plenty of time to soak it up, rest, and get ready for the National League Championship Series against either the Philadelphia Phillies or Milwaukee Brewers. That could easily go 5, as the Brewers looked rejuvenated at home. Game 1 will be Thursday night either in Philadelphia or home against Milwaukee. At this point, I'm not sure who'd I'd rather see. Both have great offenses, with a slight edge in my mind to the Phillies. But facing C.C. Sabathia would be scary, even if he was off the other day. The Phillies are deeper in their rotation, so that's a tough call. Hopefully they'll beat each other up for 5 games.

Dodger fans, enjoy the moment, and be thirsty for more!

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