09/30/07 10:32 PM ET
NLDS breakdown: D-backs
Melvin's crew aims to crank up offense to back Webb and Co.
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
Webb is the class of the Arizona rotation, but then, he would be the class of a lot of rotations. He has already been a Cy Young Award winner, and this season, he is once again as good as any starter in the league -- apart from Jake Peavy. If he has the Cubs hitting grounder after grounder, he's in charge. If the Cubs, on the other hand, can find a way to score often enough to win against him, they would change the nature of the series.
And if the Cubs are going to do some damage offensively against Arizona, they should probably plan on doing it before the seventh inning. The D-backs have had highly effective relief work after that from Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and closer Jose Valverde. Valverde has a tendency to put some runners on base, but the record states clearly that he led the Major Leagues in saves this season.
Diamondbacks' lineup vs. Cubs' pitching: The Diamondbacks on offense are statistical rarities. This is a team that was outscored this season, yet led the National League in victories. That isn't supposed to happen. The D-backs were 14th in the league in runs scored, and still had 90 victories. That isn't supposed to happen, either.
This Arizona team is built around pitching and defense. There have been times this season when its offense was a case for the Missing Persons Bureau. And yet, the hitting has been timely often enough to achieve success. That is going to have to continue for the D-Backs to continue in October.
The Cubs starting pitching, unless Carlos Zambrano is in near-no-hitter form, is more effective than overpowering. The Diamondbacks may have to scratch and claw for runs, but their record indicates that they can do that when they must. The D-backs are much more likely to engage in situational hitting, and they'll have to in order to prevail in this series. Some continued power from Chris Young would be extremely helpful. And this may be a series in which the work of sparkplug Eric Byrnes is absolutely central.
Again, waiting for the late innings to score may be waiting too long. Carlos Marmol has been a revelation in relief for the Cubs, Bob Howry continues to be sturdy in a setup role and Ryan Dempster, while he is not often mentioned among the elite closers, has a save percentage that is just fine.
Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano vs. D-backs closer Valverde: The game is on the line. Which likely outcome do you like better? The home run or the strikeout?
D-backs outfielder Young vs. Marmol: Maybe the game is on the line, and maybe it isn't. OK, let's say it is. It will be a treat in any case to see a contest between two of the game's most exciting young talents.
D-backs Secret Weapon:
D-backs Achilles' Heel:
This is not a team with an impressive offense. Pitching and defense win at this time of the year, but the D-backs cannot afford an offensive disappearance in October.
Bob Melvin has done one of the best managing jobs in the Major Leagues this year. Underestimated in the past because of a mild public demeanor and an active dislike for self-promotion, Melvin should be the NL Manager of the Year and should be recognized as one of the best baseball minds of this generation.
You never know how the kids will respond to the October spotlight. Will they blissfully excel, unaware that they're too inexperienced? Or will the pressure fully descend upon them? Melvin has set precisely the right tone so far, and perhaps there is reason to believe it can continue in the postseason.
Three Reasons Why the Diamondbacks Will Win:
Forget the hitting, forget the inexperience. Pitching and defense win in October. This group has a considerable quantity of both.
In Webb, they have the starting pitcher in this series who is most likely to absolutely stop the opposition. If he wins two, the math becomes much easier.
There will be pressure on the Diamondbacks, because there is pressure on anybody who reaches this level. But they have already exceeded expectations. They should not be worn down by the postseason pressure.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.