10/07/2003 6:36 PM ET
Cubs: Keys to victory
Marlins: Keys to Victory
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Herewith, five keys for the Cubs to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945...
1. Hold serve: Conventional wisdom says the Marlins need to take full advantage of any games not started by Mark Prior or Kerry Wood, and that if the Cubs win behind Carlos Zambrano or Matt Clement, they'll win the series. Conventional wisdom is, for once, correct, but there's a flipside. If Chicago can't take full advantage of their two horses, the Fish could teal, er, steal, the series. Prior and Wood are simply as good as it gets, and they're both rolling. If the Cubbies can't win with those guys on the mound, they're in deep trouble.
2. Get Sammy going: Moises Alou had a tremendous Division Series, but the Cubs' offense can only go so far without Sammy Sosa hitting like he's supposed to. Sosa went 3-for-16 in the opening round with one extra-base hit and a single RBI. He walked six times, but that was as much a result of Atlanta pitching around him as Sosa being patient. Josh Beckett has had a tougher time against right-handed hitters than lefties, and the Marlins will send a lefty to the mound at least once in the series. That should help.
3. The boys from the bench: The Cubs' everyday lineup isn't as strong as the Marlins, but Dusty Baker does have a couple of nice options on his bench -- especially whichever of Randall Simon or Eric Karros is not starting at first base. Baker can go to some speedy pinch-runners when he wants to, and Ramon Martinez is a fantastic, versatile infield spare part. Chicago pinch-hitters tallied two base hits, a sac fly and two RBIs against Atlanta. In what should be a tight, low-scoring series, some big late-inning hits could make the difference.
4. Catch the ball: Prior and Wood rack up the strikeouts, so defense is not that big a deal behind them. However, putting the ball in play is a strength of this Florida team, which had the fourth-fewest Ks in the NL this season. The Cubs' outfield defense is average at best, and only Alex Gonzalez is an exemplary defender in the infield. Once again, in a series where 2-1 and 3-2 games should be the rule rather than the exception, a single defensive gaffe could turn the tide of a game.
5. Get it to Joe: Cubs fans seem to get nervous when the ball is in the hands of their team's setup men, but for the most part Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Remlinger have been effective. Then again, Baker prefers not to have to use them, if at all possible. The biggest decisions for the Chicago manager might come in the seventh and eighth innings -- whether to ride the starters, or to go with Farnsworth, Remlinger et al before Joe Borowski pitches the ninth. The Marlins were a come-from-behind team all year; leads are not safe against them.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.