Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates Preview, Sunday 7/10, 12:35 CT: Almost All-Star Break

Darwin Barney of the Chicago Cubs is congratulated by teammate Starlin Castro after scoring against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on July 9, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Cubs record at the All-Star break since 2000:

2010: 39-49
2009: 43-43
2008: 57-38
2007: 44-43
2006: 34-54
2005: 43-44
2004: 47-40
2003: 47-47
2002: 35-51
2001: 51-35
2000: 35-51

Predictive value: pretty high. The only years in which the Cubs' post-All-Star record differed significantly from the pre-All-Star mark were 2003 (when they were 41-27 after the break, winning the NL Central) and 2001 (when they played much worse, going 37-39 and, after reaching the break in first place, finished third). In 2007, the Cubs won the NL Central after being just a game over .500 pre-All-Star, but were only a little better (41-34) after the break.

The Cubs will be either 16 or 18 games under .500 after today's matchup in Pittsburgh. The seasons from the last 11 that come closest to matching that deficit are 2000, 2002 and 2006, years in which the team lost 97, 95 and 96 games, respectively.

So, unless there's a sudden turnaround from a really bad first half, we're not looking at a good finish to this year. The only season that I can recall when a Cubs team had a bad first half and turned it around was 1968, when the Cubs reached the ASB at 39-45, then went 45-33 after. That team had three future Hall of Famers (and should have had four, with Ron Santo). This one doesn't.

Cubs lineup:

Johnson RF, Castro SS, Ramirez 3B, Baker 1B, Soto C, Byrd CF, Soriano LF, Barney 2B, Ortiz P

At last, a lineup that makes some sense vs. a LHP.

Pirates lineup:

Presley LF, d'Arnaud SS, Walker 2B, McCutchen CF, Overbay 1B, Diaz RF, Harrison 3B, McKenry C, Maholm P

One more unrelated thing: I haven't updated the right sidebar poll in a while. If anyone has a good idea for a front-page poll, post it in the comments here.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Ramon Ortiz
Ramon Ortiz
vs. Paul Maholm
Paul Maholm
0-1 W-L 5-9
3.00 ERA 3.08
7 SO 67
3 BB 42
0 HR 7
vs. Pit -- vs. Cubs

2011 - Ramon Ortiz 0-1 1 1 0 0 0 0 6.0 7 3 2 0 3 7 3.00 1.67

2011 - Paul Maholm 5-9 18 18 1 1 0 0 114.0 97 44 39 7 42 67 3.08 1.22

Ramon Ortiz threw surprisingly well last Tuesday in his first Cubs start vs. the Nationals. He has not faced the Pirates since 2006, so any comparison to those previous outings vs. Pittsburgh is largely irrelevant. The only current Pirate he has faced for more than a handful of AB is Lyle Overbay (7-for-19, .368, one double, two HR).

Paul Maholm used to get drilled by Cubs hitters on a regular basis. However, he has not given up a run to the Cubs in two starts this season covering 15.2 innings, including a CG, three-hit shutout on May 28 at Wrigley Field. Current Cubs, though, are hitting .314 (54-for-172) against him with seven home runs, four by Alfonso Soriano and two by Aramis Ramirez. So perhaps there's hope for this game after all.

Today's game is on WGN and ROOT Sports Pittsburgh. Here is the complete Mediacenter for today. Gameday game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Pirates site Bucs Dugout.

Today's first pitch thread will be up at 12:30 p.m. CDT and the overflow threads will post at 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm and 3:15 pm CDT. If you need more overflows due to extra innings or rain delays, post them in the fanshot section.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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