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2003 MLB Playoffs
NLCS Preview
October 6, 2003

While Oakland and Boston battle it out in what should be a thrilling Game 5, let's take a look at what should be a very competitive NLCS between the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins.

Chicago Cubs
- Continue dominant pitching.  Chicago's current lineup is much better than what they trotted out there in April thanks to the Pirates, but they still are not going to outslug their opponents.  They need to control the game with the pitching and take advantage of as many scoring chances as possible.

- Hit with runners on.  When the bases are loaded with no outs, you MUST score runs.  The Cubs escaped the Division Series despite the lack of hitting with runners in scoring position.  If they want to reach the World Series, they must hit when it counts.

Must Not:
- Go to the bullpen early.  Farnsworth and Borowski are capable of holding a lead, but the Cubs do not want to see guys like Veres or Alfonseca pitching in the 5th and 6th innings.  The longer the starter pitches, the more of an advantage the Cubs have.

- Let Pierre and Castillo dictate the series.  The fact is that Florida's speedsters are going to reach base.  The key is to focus on the hitter, not the runner.  Without a serious power threat, Florida is capable of "first and thirding" you to death, but if the Cubs worry about getting the hitter out, it doesn't matter how many bases Pierre steals.

Florida Marlins
- Set the table.  With no one on, Pudge, Lee, and the rest of the lineup aren't nearly as menacing, but when Pierre and/or Castillo reach, the heart of the lineup becomes more dangerous because a hit, not just a home run, will bring a runner home.

- Compete with the Cubs staff.  It's a bit much to ask the Marlins to outpitch the Cubs each game, but it's not too much to ask the starters to at least keep the team in the game.  If the Marlins can do that each time out and essentially negate Chicago's biggest strength, they will give themselves a good chance to win the series.

Must Not:
- Fall behind early.  The Braves proved that giving up early leads to the Cubs will cost you.  As good as the bullpen was for the Braves over most of the series, it wasn't enough as they fell behind too early too often.  The same will be true for Florida if they fall behind.

- Let Sosa beat them.  If the Marlins are going to give up runs, they better make sure it's not Sosa doing the damage.  Unlike Florida's well balanced lineup, the Cubs do have a few holes lower in the order.  Like they did with Barry Bonds and the Giants, taking a pass on Sosa will force the Cubs to beat you with their weakness, and that's all you can ask for.

The Cubs and Marlins are very similar teams.  Both squads possess young, talented starting pitching, capable late inning bullpens, and a leadoff man who can stir up trouble when he gets on. 

Chicago is here because of the moves they made this year.  Florida is here because of the moves they didn't make.  Rather than sell off the players, Marlins ownership held out just long enough to realize they had a chance to do some post season damage.

Each team has something to prove and nothing to lose.  The series should be a long one, and, on a hunch, I see the Cubs infield defense somehow costing them a game and eventually the series.

Prediction:  Marlins in Seven

Enjoy the games, and be sure to check for updates throughout the playoffs!