Games 1 and 2 at Arizona, Wednesday and Thursday
Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) at Chicago, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7
Game 5 (if necessary) at Arizona, Tuesday, Oct. 9
What got the Diamondbacks here: Luck. At least, that's what Pythagoras says. In reality, the Diamondbacks' National League West division title was a confluence of strong starting pitching (third-best ERA in the league), enough clutch hitting (130 runs scored after the seventh inning when either ahead or behind by one run) and a serviceable defense. The Diamondbacks do nothing flashy. They don't wallop home runs, don't steal too many bases, don't strike out that many guys. They just win, and sometimes, that doesn't follow any kind of formula.
What got the Cubs here: Attrition. The NL Central was a joke all season, and Chicago happened to survive their own follies and maladies to prevail. A gander at their lineup and pitching rotation shows quite a haul of talent, yet for all of it, the Cubs struggled to find traction early in the season and withstood four losses in their final six games to capture their first playoff appearance since, well, this.
Diamondbacks difference-makers: Arizona's only legitimate star, Brandon Webb cleaved himself into Cy Young chatter with 42 consecutive scoreless innings earlier this year after winning the award last year. He eats innings and does so quickly, his sinker boring through the strike zone and snapping bats like popsicle sticks. Left fielder Eric Byrnes, usually broadcasting on Fox this time of the year, parlayed a breakout season into a $30 million extension. He's fast, he hits for power and, with Orlando Hudson out for the season, he's a veteran in a lineup of neophytes.
Cubs difference-makers: For two months this season, left fielder Alfonso Soriano looked like an $18-million-a-year player. One was June, when the Cubs jumped back into the NL Central race, and the other was September, when they locked up the division. His 14 home runs in September led baseball, and his .714 slugging percentage was sixth among NL regulars. One way or another, Game 1 starter Carlos Zambrano will make a difference. Whether it's by pitching a three-hit shutout or fighting a teammate no one knows. Big Z can be among the best in the game. He can also rate with the worst.
Diamondbacks unlikely hero: Tony Clark seems more sage than player, and yet in 221 at-bats this season, he has cracked 17 home runs and driven in 51 runs. He's 35 years old and long separated from his days as a regular. He's also a switch-hitting pinch hitter with three such home runs on his resume this season – and facing a Cubs bullpen that, aside from one guy, could use work.
Cubs unlikely hero: That guy is Carlos Marmol, the 24-year-old Dominican whose 1.43 ERA is third in baseball among pitchers with at least 60 innings. His delivery is unorthodox, ugly even, which is just fine considering the filth he throws. Converted from catcher in 2003, Marmol throws a hard-sinking fastball and a slider that tilts with an unfair 11th-hour break, accounting for most of his 96 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings. (Also worth mentioning: Rookie catcher Geovany Soto, who has hit .444 and slugged .778 in 45 September at-bats.)
Why the Diamondbacks should win: Because Webb is an ace, Byrnes is a bulldog and rookie Chris Young is an immense talent. Because their bullpen, however overworked, still boasts right-handers Juan Cruz and Tony Pena, lefty specialist Doug Slaten and closer Jose Valverde, and that's a fearsome crew. Most of all, because, in the face of numbers, critics and skeptics, they've won all season, so who's to say the improbable run will stop here?
Why the Cubs should win: Because they're the more talented team. Because a lineup that includes Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez should outhit the Diamondbacks. Because manager Lou Piniella has won a World Series while Arizona's Bob Melvin is in his first postseason. Most of all, because, dammit, Chicago can only take so much.