Barring a meltdown that would make 2004 look like a walk in the park, the Cubs are going to the playoffs. They absolutely obliterated the Pirates; it’s hard to believe that this is the same team that lost two of three to the Pirates in Pittsburgh just a couple weeks ago. They’ve decided that the best way to deal with the ups-and-downs of relying on the outcome of balls put in play is simply to hit the ball out of the park. A lot. It’s awesome to watch in and of itself, of course, and it’s also very gratifying given the power outage we’ve seen all season: this is what this season was supposed to be like the whole year. I expected Soriano, Ramirez, and Lee to combine for at least 100 homers. They probably won’t get to 85, but that’s a lot higher than it looked it’d get a couple of weeks ago. The bats have arrived, at long last, and the Cubs suddenly look every bit the offensive force the Brewers are, and with better pitching (both starting and relief) to boot.

Brewers fans are understandably upset. I was going to write some “eat it, Brewers fans!” crap, but you know what? I feel sorta bad for them. They’re not like Cardinals fans (and not just because they can read): they’ve waited a long time to see a halfway decent team, and it really looked for three and a half months like they were going to see their team play in the postseason.  I still don’t appreciate their small-market self-righteousness, but they got screwed out of the postseason due to some bad breaks (Ben Sheets’ injury) and terrible managing.  Still, I’m not gonna feel too bad.

The Cubs travel to Florida now to face the always-tough-on-the-Cubs Marlins.  The Marlins swept the Cubs back in May, and are playing for pride at this point.  Let’s look at the matchups:

Tuesday @ 6:05 CDT: Dontrelle Willis vs. Ted Lilly

Dontrelle has not been great against the Cubs in his career, posting a 3-3 record and a 4.60 ERA in eight starts.  This year, he’s faced the Cubs once, going seven innings and giving up four runs in a 9-4 Marlins win.  Cliff Floyd and Aramis Ramirez have struggled against Willis, but pretty much every other Cub hitter has hit him hard.  With the way the Cubs are swinging the bats lately, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Willis get knocked out early.  Unfortunately, the same may happen to Lilly.  The Bull Moose, as some call him, had a rough start against the Fish on May 30, surrendering six runs (five earned) in seven innings on three homers.  Miguel Olivo and Dan Uggla basically have hit home runs in every at-bat against Lilly.

Wednesday @ 6:05 CDT: Dan Barone vs. Jason Marquis

Dan Barone has never faced the Cubs.  He appears to suck.  This would have spelled certain doom for the Cubs earlier this year and in years past, but lately they’ve jumped all over young, struggling pitchers.  Marquis has faced the Marlins once this season and lost to Dontrelle Willis.  Most of the Marlins have great career numbers against him, so the Cubs might need to score a lot to win that game.

Thursday @ 3:05 CDT: Felon Olsen vs. Steve Trachsel

Assuming Scott Olsen doesn’t get arrested before Thursday, he’ll be making the start for the Marlins.  He hasn’t faced the Cubs this year, but he has made three starts against them in his career, earning no-decisions each time.  The current crop of Cubs haven’t him too well.  Trachsel sucks, but he has kept most of the Marlins’ hitter at bay during his career, with the exception of Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez.

The Cubs’ magic number is 4.  It’s tempting to argue that the Brewers will lose no less than two of their final seven, which means the Cubs need to only win two of their final six.  That argument would seem to indicate that the Cubs can afford to lose two of three to the Marlins, but I think considering the time ordering of wins and losses indicates otherwise.  The Brewers, you see, have a pretty good shot at sweeping the Pujols-less Cardinals.  Their biggest challenge is tonight against Wainwright; if they can win that game, they are in great position to sweep.  Let’s say they do, and let’s say the Cubs lose the first two games of the series to the Marlins.  That would mean that the Cubs would only be one up with four to go, with Trachsel taking the mound and homer-prone Rich Hill set to start the next game in a bandbox against a powerful Reds team.  Gulp.  This is, of course, the worst case scenario, but my point is that it’s not that unlikely, at least from the Brewers’ end of things.  If they lose tonight, then I think it’s really over; if they win, though, I think it forces the Cubs to win one of the first two games in Florida.  That would, at the least, keep the Brewers two back with four to play, and I like those numbers.