NLDS breakdown: Cubs

NLDS breakdown: Cubs

Cubs' Lineup vs. Diamondbacks' Pitching: The Cubs finally saw the team they thought they had in September, when they set a monthly franchise record for home runs. That was essential, because the Cubs don't do particularly well manufacturing runs. One key for the Cubs will be keeping those power strokes going in October.

Another key in this series for the Cubs' offense may be as simple and as difficult as beating Brandon Webb. This is a classic matchup of a team that wants to hit for power against a pitcher with one of the Major League's best power sinkers. 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.

If both teams pitch to their capabilities, and if the wind isn't blowing out in gusts at Wrigley Field, there should be at least an occasional low-scoring contest in this series. At some point, the Cubs may have to play for one run and make it work.

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.

The Cubs' starting pitching, unless Carlos Zambrano is in near-no-hitter form, is more effective than overpowering. But 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.

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Late-game Matchups:
Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano vs. D-backs closer Jose Valverde: The game is on the line. Which likely outcome do you like better? The home run or the strikeout?

D-backs outfielder Chris 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 the contest between two of the game's most exciting young talents.

Cubs Secret Weapon:


Soto
Catcher Geovany Soto tore up Triple-A this season, being named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Year. He obviously doesn't have the experience of Jason Kendall, and he's brand new to this level. But his bat could be a real difference-maker for the Cubs in this postseason.

Cubs' Achilles' Heel:
The Cubs spent much of the season stranding runners. If that happens again, the World Series drought reaches the century mark.

Cubs' Manager:
Whatever else you say about Lou Piniella, he took charge of this team, changed the culture and remained the no-nonsense, straight-ahead character he always was -- just what the doctor ordered. He has won a World Series before, and if he wins again, he's among the managerial giants.

Cubs' Intangibles:
This is now a workmanlike operation. Problem: The first time trouble arises, there will be all those people whispering in their ears about the 99-year thing. That isn't the fault of these Cubs, but that stuff can wear on a team.

Three Reasons Why the Cubs Will Win:

• They are more likely than the D-backs to change the course of game with one swing.

• This is sometimes overlooked, but the Cubs had the second-best team ERA in the National League. That's the kind of thing that wins in October.

• In the name of Tinker, Evers and Chance and all that Ernie Banks holds holy, isn't it their turn?

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.