Marlins vs. Cubs

Nlcs Scouting Report

October 07, 2003|By Peter Schmuck

MARLINS PITCHING VS. CUBS HITTING

The Marlins feature one of the best young starting rotations in the business, with plenty of depth for a seven-game series.

Manager Jack McKeon chose to open the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants with big right-hander Josh Beckett, who emerged as a dominant force in the second half of the season, but the Marlins got strong seasons from Rookie of the Year candidate Dontrelle Willis, offseason steal Mark Redman and right-hander Brad Penny.

The Cubs counter with a lineup full of veteran hitters who proved to be resourceful against a solid Atlanta Braves pitching staff last week, and were not wowed by the Marlins in the regular season. The Cubs won the season series, 4-2, and outscored the Marlins, 31-16, in those six July games.

The players at the heart of the lineup -- Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Eric Karros and Alex Gonzalez -- were a combined 22-for-75 (.293) with five home runs and 15 RBIs.

The Marlins pitched great down the stretch and beefed up the back of their bullpen with the midseason acquisition of closer Ugueth Urbina, so they may present a different face in this series. They are not the same pitching staff away from Pro Player Stadium, however. They ran up a 4.98 ERA on the road this year, compared to 3.17 at home.

Marlins key number: Four of the five regular members of the Marlins' starting rotation gave up an average of less than a hit an inning during the regular season.

Cubs key number: Sammy Sosa batted .320 against the Marlins this year with three homers and six RBIs in 25 at-bats.

Edge: Even

CUBS PITCHING VS. MARLINS HITTING

The Marlins have some nice young arms, but they are not in the same league with the Cubs' starting rotation, which will open the series with nasty Carlos Zambrano and get tougher from there.

What else is there to say about phenom Mark Prior, who was all but unhittable in his Division Series start against the Braves, or Kerry Wood, who has been the dominant pitcher of the postseason so far? You want depth? The No. 4 starter in this mix is Matt Clement, who won 14 games and struck out 169 batters during the regular season.

The Marlins didn't find them very inviting during those two series in July, scoring 2.7 runs a game. This is a slightly different lineup, however, since the Marlins are without injured third baseman Mike Lowell, but Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera stepped up to fill the void with 20 RBIs each in September. Former Oriole Jeff Conine also had a positive impact on the club's offensive chemistry down the stretch.

The Marlins don't have great depth in the absence of Lowell, but they have good team speed, with NL stolen base leader Juan Pierre at the top of the order and several other starters who can steal bases. But they're going to have to get on base against the Cubs' tough starting rotation and pretty solid bullpen.

Kyle Farnsworth appears to be sound again, so he'll be there to help solid Mike Remlinger set up for closer Joe Borowski. It isn't a great bullpen, but it is good enough.

Cubs key number: Prior and Wood combined to pitch 24 1/3 innings in the Division Series and went 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA.

Marlins key number: The Marlins stole 150 bases during the regular season, 50 more than the club (Montreal) with the second-highest total in the league.

Edge: Cubs.

DEFENSE

Marlins: The Marlins had their best defensive season in club history, in terms of fielding percentage (.987) and fewest errors (78) and ranked second in the league behind St. Louis in both categories. They have decent range on the infield and the undisputed defensive king behind the plate in perennial Gold Glove winner Ivan Rodriguez.

Conine provided the defensive play of the Division Series when he scooped up a single by Jeffrey Hammonds and threw out the potential tying run at the plate to end Game 4 and the series on Saturday.

Key number: Rodriguez caught 32 percent of the runners who attempted to steal on him this year.

Cubs: The Cubs ranked eighth in the National League with a .983 fielding percentage and 106 errors, but they feature solid up-the-middle defense and good range in the outfield.

The midseason deal that put Kenny Lofton in center field made Sosa and Alou more effective at the corner outfield positions, while upgrading the club's speed on the bases.

It is not a great defensive team, but with a pitching staff that struck out a major league-leading 1,404 batters, above average is probably good enough.

Key number: Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, splitting the season between the Pirates and Cubs committed 33 errors this year.

Edge: Marlins.

MANAGERS

Jack McKeon: The Marlins manager didn't arrive on the scene until May, but he has to be a strong candidate for NL Manager of the Year. His gruff but grandfatherly style allowed the Marlins to recover from a disappointing start and weather the potentially disastrous late-season injury to Lowell.

McKeon is a solid tactician who keeps his players on a loose leash as long as they perform, but can crack the whip if necessary.

Dusty Baker: Baker led the San Francisco Giants to the World Series last year, so the Cubs couldn't believe their good fortune when he became available during the winter.

He knew it would be a big job turning around a team that went 67-95 last year, but he kept repeating a simple mantra in 2003: "Why not us?"

Baker might not be the top tactical manager in the game, but no one does a better job of creating a winning environment in the clubhouse and in the dugout. That just might be what it's all about.

Edge: Cubs.

PREDICTION

The Cubs could easily sweep the first two games of the best-of-seven series and send Wood on regular rest in the first game at Pro Player Stadium on Friday. That, and the home-field advantage, is going to make them hard to stop. CUBS IN SIX.

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