CHICAGO -- His face red and his nose stuffed, Derek Lowe was hunched over in front of his locker Sunday when Manny Ramirez wrapped his arms around him from behind.
“Get away from me,” Lowe said, weakly pushing away Ramirez. “You can’t get sick.”
Lowe’s instinct to protect the Dodgers’ best hitter was understandable; so was Ramirez’s instinct to make the Game 1 starter feel better.
Because as big a threat as Ramirez is, Manager Joe Torre said, the Dodgers won’t beat the Chicago Cubs in the National League division series that starts Wednesday at Wrigley Field if they can’t pitch with them.
“You’re going to have to pitch well because they can beat your brains out,” Torre said.
The Cubs topped the NL in runs scored and their starters posted a 3.75 earned-run average this season, best among the teams in the majors that reached the postseason. (The Dodgers’ starters had a 3.87 ERA.)
The Cubs will employ a four-man rotation consisting of Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.96 ERA), Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.91), Rich Harden (5-1, 1.77) and Ted Lilly (16-9, 4.17), in that order.
The Dodgers will counter with Lowe (14-11, 3.24), Chad Billingsley (16-10, 3.14) and Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73) in the first three games, with Lowe being considered to pitch Game 4 on short rest.
The Dodgers lost five of their seven games against the Cubs this season and were swept by them in three games at Wrigley Field. The Dodgers averaged only a run a game at Wrigley.
Then again, every one of their games against the Cubs took place over a two-week window from late May to early June, meaning Ramirez was about two months away from becoming a Dodger.
“Our lineup is completely different,” Kuroda said.
That the Dodgers faced Brandon Webb and Dan Haren of Arizona, Jake Peavy of San Diego and Tim Lincecum of San Francisco in recent weeks could have served as decent preparation for this series, Torre said.
“Haren’s kind of like Zambrano,” James Loney noted.
Torre said he takes comfort in knowing the Dodgers had a chance to win every game they lost to the Cubs, as each of their defeats were by two or fewer runs.
Lowe outpitched Zambrano on May 28, blanking the Cubs over seven innings only for Takashi Saito to blow a save. Lowe beat Zambrano at Dodger Stadium on June 7, Lowe limiting the Cubs to three runs over seven innings while the Dodgers pounded Zambrano for seven runs in 6 2/3 innings.
Lowe was 5-1 with a 0.94 ERA in his last nine starts. But he was hindered by the Dodgers’ inability to score for him throughout the season, as his run-support average in the 20 games he didn’t win was 1.98. Dempster, who goes head to head Wednesday with Lowe, was 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in his two starts against the Dodgers.
“Lowe, obviously, has been to this thing before,” Torre said.
Kuroda pitched particularly well against the Cubs, tossing the Dodgers’ first complete-game shutout in three years in a 3-0 victory at Dodger Stadium on June 6.
His start in Game 3 will also be at Dodger Stadium.
“Obviously, I remember that and that gives me some confidence,” Kuroda said. “But I know that their team has also made adjustments over the last few months.”
The team’s bullpens could also be a factor, as both teams had only 31 losses resulting from blown leads. In the NL, only Philadelphia lost fewer games after taking a lead.
Then there are the elements.
“A lot of it’s going to depend on what the weather’s going to be like in Chicago,” Torre said. “It’s so unpredictable at this time of year. The wind blows in and a bazooka wouldn’t get the ball out of that ballpark. Otherwise, if the wind’s blowing out, it’ll be similar to playing in Philly, where even if you pitch well, you aren’t guaranteed to get a good result.”
Dodgers vs. Chicago
Game 1: Wednesday
at Chicago, 3:30 p.m., TBS
Lowe (14-11) vs. Dempster (17-6)
Chicago vs. DODGERS (best-of-five):
Wednesday: Dodgers (Lowe 14-11) at Chicago (Dempster 17-6), 3:30 p.m.
Thursday: Dodgers (Billingsley 16-10) at Chicago (Zambrano 14-6), 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: Chicago (Harden 5-1) at Dodgers (Kuroda 9-10), 7 p.m.
Sunday: Chicago (Lilly 16-9) at Dodgers (TBA), if necessary, TBA
Oct. 7: Dodgers at Chicago, if necessary, TBA
Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee (best-of-five):
Wednesday: Milwaukee (Gallardo 0-0) at Phila. (Hamels 14-10), noon
Thursday: Milwaukee (Sabathia 11-2) at Philadelphia (Myers 10-13), 3 p.m.
Saturday: Phila. (Moyer 16-7) at Milwaukee (TBA), 3:30 p.m.
Sunday: Philadelphia at Milwaukee, if necessary, TBA
Oct. 7: Milwaukee at Philadelphia, if necessary, TBA
All games televised on TBS (times PDT)