No matter how hard people try, life usually doesn't follow a script. And baseball games seldom are won on paper.
However, this week's four-game series between Milwaukee and Chicago, a battle at Miller Park for first place in the National League's Central Division, could go down as one of the most memorable in recent history if the pitching matchups live up to the statistics and hype.
Both managers, Ned Yost of the Brewers and Lou Piniella of the Cubs, have lined up their starting staffs accordingly since the All-Star break, so regardless of how much they downplay this end-of-July rendezvous, it's big in the clubhouses and in the stands—let's hope Milwaukee supporters can offset the hordes of Flatlanders coming through the turnstiles.
Tonight's opener features a battle of southpaws as Chicago's Ted Lilly (10-6, 4.49) opposes CC Sabathia, who's only 10-8 overall but has posted a 4-0 mark with three consecutive complete games and 1.36 ERA since arriving from Cleveland.
Lilly was 1-1 against Milwaukee last year and lost to Jeff Suppan and the Brewers, 8-2, in game two of the teams' season-opening series at Wrigley Field. Sabathia was roughed up in his only career start with the Indians against Chicago to the tune of nine runs in 2.1 innings, although he's allowed only 20 hits in 33 innings with 31 strikeouts with Milwaukee.
Tuesday's confrontation features two common adversaries in Chicago's Carlos Zambrano (11-4, 2.96) and Milwaukee's Ben Sheets (10-3, 2.87). Zambrano and Sheets each went 2-1 against their rivals a year ago, including splitting the contests in which they faced each other.
These two right-handers squared off again in the season opener. Neither allowed a run but weren't around when the outcome was decided. Sheets defeated Jason Marquis in the second series at Wrigley and has held Cubs' hitters to a .132 average in his two appearances.
Meanwhile, Zambrano hooked up with young Brewers' standout Yovani Gallardo in the teams' May 1 contest, the one in which Gallardo tore his ACL. The Big Z also wasn't involved in the decision that day.
Wednesday's third game features the North Siders' Ryan Dempster (11-4, 2.99) against Manny Parra (9-3, 3.72). Dempster defeated Dave Bush in his first outing against the Brewers and then was the winner as the Cubs blasted Suppan for six runs in the first inning and 11 total in 3.2 innings. Chicago also stamped Derrick Turnbow's ticket out of Milwaukee with six runs in two-thirds of an inning in the hosts' 19-5 triumph.
Thursday afternoon's finale obviously gives the edge to the Cubs, with newly acquired Rich Harden—Chicago's response to the Brewers' trade for Sabathia—facing Bush.
Harden (5-2, 2.10) has struck out at least 10 in all three of his Chicago outings but hasn't tasted victory because of the Cubs' lack of run support. Bush (5-8, 4.51) has been much better in July but didn't look good in his first outing since Yost started the home-away platoon with Bush and Seth McClung. Bush also lost three times to the Cubs last year, including two at home, where he usually performs much better.
What happens should this talented lineup of starters not live up to expectations? Well, neither team's bullpen has fared particularly well this year against each other.
Chicago closer Kerry Wood, who will miss this series because he's on the disabled list with a blister problem, probably won't mind being out of action because Milwaukee scored three runs against him in the ninth inning of the season opener that the Brewers then won in 10 innings because Eric Gagne gave the three runs right back on Kosuke Fukodome's three-run homer.
Then the Brewers reached Wood for three more runs to win the May 1 Zambrano-Gallardo matchup.
Obviously, a key will be which team's offense can do the most damage or at least neutralize some of this fantastic pitching. But that's why they play the games, right?
Is this series do or die for either team? Nope. However, it could go a long way in determining any tiebreaker situations later on. But it is big for the Brewers because they, even though they finished 7-0 at San Francisco and St. Louis right after the All-Star break, face the dog days of August with 17 of 27 away from home and can use all of the momentum they can get.
So this scribe feels that Milwaukee must at least gain a split before making a second trip to Atlanta and stopping for three more against Cincinnati, a divisional foe that has proved troublesome for the Crew this season.