NLDS breakdown: Dodgers vs. Cubs
Power pitching, high-octane offense highlight opening series
Cubs at bat: This is the National League's best run-scoring lineup, and why not? Even without career years from some of its core people, there is tremendous lineup depth here, particularly with the emergence of catcher Geovany Soto. The Cubs have power, but they also can play small ball. This is the North Siders' most versatile, most effective lineup within recent memory. Or longer. One possible problem looms. The Cubs are predominantly right-handed, and they'll be going against at least three right-handed starters -- Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda -- each of whom has been pitching effectively. Lowe has been especially good, not losing a decision since August. His heavy sinker could seriously limit the production of any lineup, even this one.
Dodgers at bat: When the rest of the world thinks about the Dodgers at bat, over the past two months that has been Manny Ramirez. His performance has gone from Hall of Fame in waiting to otherworldly. But there is much more going on for the Dodgers. The development of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and James Loney as run producers has certainly been aided by Ramirez's presence in the L.A. lineup, but these are talented young players and they are making an impact. But they'll be facing a very strong Chicago rotation. Game 1 starter Ryan Dempster has been virtually unbeatable at Wrigley Field. Rich Harden, when he is healthy and on his game, is one of the best in the game. Lefty Ted Lilly has been brilliant late in the season, and he is just the fourth starter. The "X" factor may be the nominal ace, Carlos Zambrano. He threw a no-hitter against Houston, but then, he was roughed up in his next two starts.
Key late-game matchups:
1. It's a natural. Ramirez against Cubs closer Kerry Wood. Power against power. Wood has almost miraculously regained the mid-to-upper 90s velocity that seemed lost forever. He has not been unhittable this season, but he presents serious problems, between that velocity and a nasty slider. With Ramirez having two of the best months of his career -- or anybody's career -- and Wood back in the form that once made him a strikeout phenom, this would be a classic ninth-inning matchup, particularly in October.
2. On the other side, a similar matchup beckons, Alfonso Soriano against the Dodgers' flamethrower, Jonathan Broxton. Soriano was a target for abuse early in the season when he wasn't hitting, and his defensive shortcomings were magnified. But he hit his way back into the good graces of Cubs fans. He's a streaky hitter who is capable of being a game-changer for weeks at a time. The Cubs can only hope that one of those streaks occurs in October. Broxton, whose stuff parallels that of Wood, has also been less than impenetrable, but his stuff can be overpowering. A matchup between Broxton and Soriano with the game on the line would be another moment fully worthy of October baseball.
Cubs center fielder Jim Edmonds. The veteran rejuvenated his career with the Cubs this summer. He's a candidate for secret weapon because he's been here before and because, with the right-handed nature of the most of the Chicago lineup, he's going to see a number of favorable pitching matchups. Kosuke Fukudome could fit in the same category, but his work in the second half does not encourage this outlook.
Many of the Dodgers' central performers are young, and they're inexperienced at this level. Maybe the pressure causes them to press, they swing at something other than strikes, the overall performance suffers. The reassuring and supremely experienced postseason presence of manager Joe Torre should help in this regard, but the phenomenon of young players struggling in the postseason is always a postseason possibility.
The Cubs will win if ... they simply play the way they've been playing all year. They have no dramatic weaknesses and they have numerous strengths. They were the best team in the NL's regular season by a substantial distance. They're supposed to win. And you know what? Maybe, at long last, it's their turn.
The Dodgers will win if ... their pitching staff delivers. In October, as the saying goes, good pitching beats good hitting. The underdog Dodgers will need their staff to deliver.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.