The championship hopes of a venerable franchise, with a long-suffering fan base and a boatload of heartbreak in its distant and recent history, rest in large part upon a big right-hander who starts the postseason with a question mark over his head. His 2008 season was filled with peaks and valleys—none more pronounced than what he did in its final month. The pinnacle came with a dominant, headline-grabbing performance on Sunday night, September 14: a complete-game masterpiece that changed the entire playoff picture. But the two starts after that, his last two of the regular season, were nothing short of disastrous. After past incidents of public tantrums, his temperament—arguably even his stability—is always at least a little in question. Nobody doubts his talent, but consistency has been sufficiently elusive that he’s a considerable X factor as the playoffs begin.
Nope. I’m writing about Carlos Zambrano.
Admittedly, the Cubs righty had a considerably better season overall (14-6, 3.91) than Myers (10-13, 4.55)—though Zambrano’s August (7.43 ERA, 7 HR in 26.2 IP) looked a lot like Myers’ June (6.67 ERA, 9 HR in 28.1 IP). Brett’s complete game two-hitter on three days’ rest against the Brewers on Sept. 14 gave the Phillies a claim on a playoff spot (in this case the wild card) that they would hold the rest of the way, Zambrano commanded the attention of the baseball world with his no-hitter that same night—at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, as it happened. The win not only put Big Z into baseball history, but stopped the Houston Astros—winners in 14 of 15 games going into the contest, and a half-game behind the Phillies before play began that day—dead in their tracks. (Hurricane Ike and a serious jerk move by the Office of the Commissioner each get an assist.) Houston went 6-7 the rest of the way and finished four games behind the Brewers for the wild card.
But while you’re probably familiar with Myers’ gruesome conclusion to the season—losses to the Marlins and Braves in which he got chased in the fifth inning and put up a composite 15.12 ERA in 8 1/3 innings—his line over those last two starts looks pretty good compared to Zambrano’s. The Cubs hurler pitched to an 18.47 ERA in just 6 1/3 over his final two appearances, surrendering nine hits and seven walks while striking out three.
His late-season struggles—not to mention past instances of bad behavior—aside, Zambrano is set to pitch Game Two of the Cubs’ Division Series against the Dodgers on Thursday. Apparently the Phillies are set to go in the same direction with Myers. You never know, of course, but I think it's the right call for both clubs.