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by alex ciepley
Over on the right-hand side, as part of the Wild Card standings, is a new column: Odds. These are the odds that the gurus over at Baseball Prospectus give each team for making the postseason. The Cubs have the best numbers among the contenders primarily due to their past performance (they still have the fourth-best "Third Order" run differential in all of baseball) and their upcoming games against some weaker teams. The Giants, while maintaining a 1/2 game lead in the race, have a much tougher road. After they finish their current series with the Brewers, San Fran finishes with fifteen straight games against Wild Card and Division contenders.
Unfortunately, it isn't this easy, and the Cubs still have to play the games. Today's matchup is a doozie. Oliver Perez is putting up the type of year we all expected from Mark Prior. Perez has been the second-toughest guy in the league to hit against (.202 Batting Average Against), has been arguably the game's best strikeout pitcher this season (an MLB-leading 11.18 K/9), and has a neat and tidy 3.01 ERA. He also has a wicked appearance. Cap pulled down low on his head, heavily angled features highlighted by his dark, manicured facial hair. Put another way, Oliver seems to be taking this Pirate thing to heart. He isn't a big guy, though. Perhaps we just expect our firestarter lefties to be lanky giants, but Perez looks shorter to me than his listed 6 feet.
The playoff odds may still swing in the Cubs favor (and despite the incessant roller coaster ride this team puts us through, it still clearly has the most talent of the other Wild Card contenders), but the chances for a sweep of the Pirates are less than a sure thing. Prior stepped it up a bit in his last start, but he may need to call on the ghosts of last season to match his mound opponent in this afternoon's game.