Revenge is a dish best served at High Altitudes
The Rockies series is crucial for a number of reasons. Beginning tonight, this weekend set has the benefit of being loaded with importance and significance. Some of it the Rockies might not be aware of -- it has context, subtext, and Wild Card implications. But what do the Cubs need to do?
1. Mark Prior
This is his first game against the Rockies since that line drive by part-time OF Brad Hawpe that left him crying in the sand and left all of us holding our breath and watching another season drift away. May 27th was, in some ways, a watershed moment (if you like to find meaning in everything, which I often do). It saw our best pitcher get hurt, our team begin an 11-3 streak over the next 2 weeks, and it brought about an odd period of consistency for our tempramental ballclub. Schizophrenic as we are, it often takes a flashpoint of misery or injury to spark our team, and since having almost everyone back (Nomar, Kerry, Williamson) from the DL on August 5, we didn't win a game that entire week.
Injuries do good things for our team, oddly enough, because it forces the kind of unity that soulless teams (cough cough *Cardinals* cough cough) cannot duplicate or fake.
2. The Colorado Rockies - breaking hearts since god-knows-when
The Rockies have little to play for at this point. With the unfortunate injury to sure-first Rookie of the Year SS Clint Barmes a couple of months ago, this team has slowly deflated like the bouncy castles at the Neverland Ranch. At a catatonic 45-76 (that's .372 for those of you who love the PCT), the Rockies are now playing that oh-so-familiar role of the spoiler.
For those of you with vitriol still lingering from last September, the Cubs have almost always fallen foul of the spoiler, that lovable loser with no hope of scoring the postseason Holy Grail. Last year's Wild Card aspirations were ticking along nicely - with a final fortnight against the Mets, Reds, Braves and Pirates, things couldn't be more rosy. However, the Cubs conspired against themselves, going 6-7 (including 2-5 in the final week while the Astros boiled and bubbled into the NLDS).
This year, we're still somewhat further out from the final week yet, but there isn't that much baseball left to play. Some 50 or so games remain on the Cubs' slate, and with a .500-ish record, we need to start picking off these hapless teams one-by-one, winning series after series against these weaker teams just to have a sniff by the time September 20th rolls around. The Wild Card race is extremely hot in the NL right now, and with ESPN not even mentioning the Cubs as being a part of it, we can slack no more. If we are to have any chance (right now we're 5.5 games out, and using Yahoo! Sports' Tom Verducci as a guideline, by his estimation you can only really be 1 game out for every week left in the season, so mathematically we're on that dangerous threshold) of the postseason, our chances begin and end at Coors Field.
3. The Rest of the Race
Phillies, Mets, Nationals, Marlins, Astros, Brewers - ladies and gentlemen, the 2005 Chicago Cubs Heartbreakers.
This is our competition for the rest of the year. Forget San Diego, screw San Francisco, Pittsburgh and any other cellar-dweller. It's this similarly streaky sextet that should be our focus over the coming month. And, surprise surprise, we get to play almost all of them (Mets and Phillies excluded, against who we went 2-4 and 2-4 respectively this season, which is not entirely inspiring) before the season is finished.
It could become more complicated if the Braves sag a little, as the crown of NL East is not yet in the bag. For the sake of argument, I'll lump them into this equation.
At present, despite the current standings (displayed in the right-hand column and updated daily until the end), we're about as consistent as any of them. With a 5-5 record in our last 10 games, Philadelphia, Washington and Florida are better (7-3, 6-4, 6-4), but that can change in a heartbeat. We're actually at more of an advantage that all our major Wild Card rivals are in either the NL Central or the NL East; the removal of the NL West from the equation means that statistically, given the amount of games left to play between all these teams directly, the pack will thin out substantially over the next 2 weeks or so. In fact, in the next 2 weeks, we have the following series to watch with interest:
Cubs vs. Atlanta
Cubs vs. Florida
Washington @ NY Mets
Washington @ Atlanta
Florida @ Milwaukee
Atlanta @ Milwaukee
NY Mets vs. Philadelphia
Houston vs. Milwaukee
Milwaukee vs. Atlanta
The Phillies have the best fortnight ahead, with a mini road-trip against the Pirates, Giants, Diamondbacks and Mets at large, but it's all rendered meaningless if you don't get out of Dodge with the almighty W.
So this should hopefully tide us all over until the game at 5pm ET tonight, when Prior will take on Byung-Hun Kim in the rarified air of Colorado. I really hope MVLee and Ramirez can blast a few HRs this weekend, just because it's the most hitter-friendly place this side of Road House.
D-Lee is .349 lifetime in Coors Field including 3 home runs. Against Kim, Lee is 7-18 with 2 HRs. Let's hope for pyrotechnics tonight.
COL: RHP Byung-Hyun Kim • 3-9, 5.33 ERA in 2005 • 0-1, 9.00 ERA vs. CHC in 2005
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 8-4, 3.70 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 2.70 ERA vs. COL in 2005