Surprise: This post was actually written by Pete Alford!
Chicago Cubs (12-15) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (14-15)
The month of April can be best described as one of mediocrity. For the majority of the month the Cubs hovered around .500 and never seemed to get off the ground. The Cubs head to Chavez Ravine to face a Dodgers team that has been plagued with the same type of consistent mediocrity: underperforming starters, injuries, and a surprising power struggle between the Commissioner and Dodgers "owner" Frank McCourt.
One of the bright spots thus far for the Dodgers is the hitting streak of Andre Ethier. Amid talks about whether the Dodgers front office would extend Ethier, the outfielder made a bold statement that he would stick around only if the team committed to winning. In the midst of a 27-game hitting streak, Ethier looks to be holding up his end of the bargain.
On the other end, the Dodgers Opening Day roster looks a bit different than it does today. Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake are on the shelf at the moment with Ivan DeJesus Jr and Aaron Miles (ugh...) filling in for them. Moreover, the Dodgers have been without top set-up man Hong Chih-Kuo until yesterday. Consequently, Kuo was charged with 4 runs in 1/3 IP.
The Cubs are coming off an April where the biggest bright spot was the performance of Starlin Castro at the plate. Castro had 40 hits in the month of April, which ties him for the Major League record for most hits in April by a player 21 years or younger. Alex Rodriguez had 40 hits in 1997 for the Seattle Mariners. Now that I've mentioned Starlin and A-Rod in the same paragraph to inflate your expectations, the pitching matchups for the series:
Monday, May 2
James Russell (1-3, 8.31 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2-3, 3.52 ERA)
Neither of these pitchers seem to have anything in common on the face. One is a lefty-reliever turned desperation spot starter, the other a lefty ace-in-the-making with the hopes and dreams of a franchise on his shoulder. However, you don't have to dig too far to find out that both of these starters like giving up the gopher ball. From James Russell it is not surprising to hear that he has allowed six home runs in his last two appearances (okay... maybe that's a huge number). However, despite allowing only seven home runs in '09 (30 starts) and 13 in '10 (32 starts), Kershaw has allowed five dingers in his first six starts this season (12% of all of his fly balls have left the park). Lucky for him, the only Cub that even thinks about hitting a home run is Alfonso Soriano.
Scouting Report: Kershaw is a power lefty that throws over the top with an excellent downhill angle. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and is the pitch he goes to 69.3% of the time. He throws a slider around 83 MPH and goes to it about 22% of the time. Rarely he throws a curve will mix in the occasional straight change once in a blue moon. He is a fly ball pitcher that so far is averaging 9.3 K/9 while limiting his walks to about 3.5 BB/9. Kershaw tends to be death for lefties, so don't expect Pena to be in the lineup. When he is on, Kershaw is nearly unhittable. The Cubs will need to be patient and let him walk himself into a few bad situations in order to get to him.
Tuesday, May 3
Ryan Dempster (1-3, 9.58 ERA) vs. Chad Billingsley (2-1, 4.46 ERA)
Watching Ryan Dempster start a baseball game is not unlike when one sees a car crash on the Edens: you're impatient that you even had to see it, but you can't seem to look away from the destruction. There isn't much I can say about Dempster's season so far that hasn't already been said by my colleagues on this site: his HR ratio is out of control, he's not fooling anyone, and in his last start he failed to get out of the first inning. The consistency that we have grown accustomed to is nowhere to be found.
Scouting Report: Billingsley recently found himself inked up for the next three years for a total of $36 million. In 5+ seasons, he's thrown 860 innings, posted 61 wins, and has a 3.59 ERA. He features a fastball in the low 90s that averages 91 MPH that he throws about half the time. He also features a cutter he leans on 22.8% of the time that comes in around 89 MPH, a curve at about 75 MPH that he throws a little under 20% of the time, and leans on a change occasionally. Walks have been a bit of an issue for the righty this year as he has given at least 2 free passes in 5 of his six starts. He loves the confines of Chavez Ravine and sports a 1.93 ERA in 14 IP there this season (as opposed to his 6.20 ERA on the road over 20+ IP). His K/9 has dropped in the past 3 seasons and currently sits at 7.86 K/9. When his control is off and he is facing patient hitters is when Billingsley gets into trouble. Once again Rudy Jaramillo will need to preach patience against this Dodger pitcher and hope for some timely hitting.
Wednesday, May 4
Carlos Zambrano (3-1, 4.91 ERA) vs. Theodore Roosevelt Lilly (2-2, 4.45 ERA)
The Bullmoose will close the series against the reformed and tranquil Carlos Zambrano. Right now all Big Z does is win, going 11-1 in his past 17 starts. Z showed good composure last time out after allowing an early home run against the Diamondbacks by settling down and eventually getting the victory. Lilly recovered from the beating he took at Wrigley and held the Padres to one run in his last outing.
Most of you are familiar with Lilly, so the scouting report is a bit redundant. Basically all you need to know is this: Ted Lilly is a serial killer and prefers blades because they are a more personal kill. You don't look him in the eyes, talk without being spoken to, or ever, EVER tell him where to stand on the rubber when he is pitching.