Conventional wisdom suggests that the Diamondbacks' inexperience will haunt them in the playoffs, but then conventional wisdom also dictated that they wouldn't make it here in the first place. A lack of veteran leadership - particularly after season-ending injuries to Randy Johnson, Chad Tracy, and Orlando Hudson - did not stop the Diamondbacks from going 43-29 in the second half and 15-11 in September as nearly everyone predicted it would.
Veteran experience is largely overrated, as noted in the season's final days. We saw a savvy Mets team seal an historic collapse when seasoned vet Tom Glavine had one of his worst outings ever with the season on the line. We also saw a young Colorado Rockies team outlast a Padres club brimmed with experience, culminating in three runs off of the all-time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman.
The Diamondbacks would do better to worry about how their anemic offense is going to score against a Cubs' pitching staff that allowed fewer runs than all but two teams.
Other than ex-Cub Juan Cruz, Livan Hernandez is the only pitcher on the Diamondbacks' playoff roster with postseason experience. He has a reputation for stepping it up in these types of games, but his most recent postseason endeavor came way back in the 2002 World Series, and it was not a good experience for him. Maybe he can help mentor the rest of the staff throughout the series, but when he pitches Game 3, he is likely to get lit up. He has allowed 20 hits over his last 10 innings, and is but a shadow of his former self. Perhaps being the most leaned upon workhorse in baseball over the past 10 years has finally taken its toll.
Micah Owings is headed in the opposite direction. He has tossed 15.1 consecutive scoreless innings, thanks in part to a changeup he improvised during a late August start. Owings might also be as dangerous of a hitter as anyone else in the Diamondbacks' lineup; he is slugging .683 and averages one RBI every four at bats. Whether he faces a reeling Jason Marquis or Carlos Zambrano on short rest, Owings makes the Diamondbacks the clear favorite in Game 4.
Chris Young has an outside shot at Rookie of the Year. He's hit 32 home runs but has struck out 140 times. What is the key to getting him out?
Good curveballs can get Young out pretty consistently, and the Cubs will show him some of the best curveballs in the majors when southpaws Ted Lilly and Rich Hill toe the rubber. Most of the damage Young has inflicted upon the Cubs this season came at the expense of Jason Marquis (3 HR in 6 AB), whose sinker and slider often come in at similar velocities.
By keeping Young off balance with a good curveball, pitchers can force the neophyte hitter to make some bad decisions at the plate. If either Hill or Lilly struggles with the command of their breaking pitches, however, that could spell trouble for the Cubs. You can't afford to walk Young with his 27 steals this year, and you certainly can't afford to groove a fastball into him on a 2-0 pitch.
I'm paraphrasing here, but Sean Marshall said during post-game celebrations the other night that he'd welcome facing the Diamondbacks in the playoffs. Does this provide any bulletin board material to the Diamondbacks?
Normally a sentiment like that could really incite a ballclub, but the Diamondbacks are so used to being pegged as underdogs that Marshall's comments probably sound like random voices in the crowd.
"I don't think we've been considered the favorite for anything the whole year," manager Bob Melvin insisted.
These Diamondbacks enjoy flying under the radar and surprising people, so Marshall's comments may put them in a comfortable role. But I don't expect those words to bring the Diamondbacks to a boil the way many of the barbs traded by Cubs and Cardinals players over the years have.
Which team has more to prove in this series: the Cubs, who all of the pundits say were beneficiaries of a weak division, or a Diamondbacks team that's very young at most of their positions and one who a lot of pundits say have overachieved?
Each team has an equally incredible amount to prove. Eleven teams finished with more regular season wins than the Cubs did, and eighteen finished with a better run differential than the Diamondbacks had.
I would say that the Cubs enter this series with much more pressure, though. Their opening day payroll was nearly double that of Arizona's, and that gap has only widened as the season has progressed. With the big name free agents Jim Hendry acquired in the offseason came expectations that this Cubs team could seriously contend. Very few prognosticators gave the Baby Backs a chance this year.
Even though the Cubs have won a postseason series more recently than the Diamondbacks have, there is a stigma associated with the Cubs franchise regarding curses, collapses, and general futility. Whether deserved or not, and whether players want to admit to it or not, this stigma will linger around every play in the series. Any mistake a Cubs player makes will fuel the media to talk about superstitions, while most mistakes made by the Diamondbacks will be shrugged off as inexperience or lack of talent.