NLDS PreviewWhile the American League is still waiting to see who will claim the AL Central Division title, the National League playoff picture is set. Both NLDS series begin on Wednesday, and the starting pitchers have been named.
The first NLDS game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies begins at 2 p.m. Central Time on Wednesday at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. The Brewers have chosen Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.88 ERA) to take the mound for Game 1. Gallardo missed most of the 2008 regular season following a knee injury he suffered at Wrigley Field early in May. Since CC Sabathia started the final game of the season on three days rest, and Ben Sheets left Saturday's game early with an elbow injury, the Brewers elected to name the youngster Gallardo for the opener. The Phillies will counter with Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09 ERA) in the series opener. Hamels ranks among the up-and-coming young stars among starting pitchers in Major League Baseball and is a potential National League Cy Young for 2008.
The keys to this series is all about pitching. The Brewers have received substantial mileage out of ace starter CC Sabathia since he was acquired from the Cleveland Indians prior to the July 31 trading deadline. His last several starts have come on three days rest. When he takes the mound during Game 2, he will once again make a start on three days rest. If needed, he would make another start in Game 5. Ben Sheets' future is uncertain. Some reports claim he will miss the NLDS, and possibly the remainder of the postseason. In addition, the Brewers bullpen has been shaky at best all season.
Philadelphia's bullpen has been solid. Brad Lidge, the former Houston Astros closer, completed every save opportunity all season. He does, however, have a history of surrendering big postseason home runs. If players like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder can slug their way past Phillies starters, Lidge may be irrelevant late in games.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs start their NLDS match-up at 5:30 p.m. Central Time on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. The Dodgers will send Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24 ERA) to the hill to battle Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.96 ERA). Though it's difficult to look beyond the current series, the Dodgers are most likely the Cubs' most difficult match-up during the playoffs. In theory, the Cubs' pitching should easily outdo the Dodgers staff, but the Cubs pitchers down the stretch have raised a few questions. Following Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter against the Houston Astros, he has been shaky. His start immediately after the no-hitter was the shortest of his career. During his next start against the New York Mets, he allowed baserunners to get into his head. Questions have even been raised whether or not Zambrano is secretly disappointed he wasn't named the Game 1 starter.
The key to series will be keeping newly acquired, Manny Ramirez, off the bases. If the Cubs pitchers can shut the Dodgers outfielder down, they should be in position to win. The Cubs' bats need to stay hot. For the most part, Sabathia shut them down on Sunday. The Cubs have not strung many loses together except for a stretch in early September. The Dodgers are guided by former Yankee manager Joe Torre and former Red Sox stars Manny Ramirez and Derek Lowe to guide their team.
The NLDS is a best-of-five series, so anything can happen. If the Brewers and Dodgers can steal a win at Philadelphia and Chicago respectively, these two series can take on a radically different look.
If you are looking for baseball on television this evening, you can see the Minnesota Twins battle the Chicago White Sox for the American League Central Division title on TBS.