You know, in hindsight, it probably would have just been better if they had just called the game after they brought out the tarp in the seventh inning Thursday night. At least the game would have been over earlier.
The bats once again went dormant in critical situations and the Cubs were shut out for the ninth time this season, losing Thursday night to the Pittsburgh Pirates by a final score of 4-0. In the four-game series, Andrew McCutchen drove in 24 runs (okay, nine) while going 8-for-14. Apparently throwing him something he could hit wasn't the best idea. The Cubs' record now stands at 26-38, putting them back in the basement of the National League but still 2½ games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays (25-42) for the worst mark in baseball.
The Cubs now head over to the other side of Pennsylvania for their final three games of the year against the Philadelphia Phillies. Philadelphia comes into the series with a 28-36 record, having just completed a three-game sweep of the hapless San Diego Padres. The Cubs and Phillies faced each other in the Cubs' home opener this year, with the Phillies taking two games out of three in that set. The Cubs also lost two out of three last year at Citizens Bank Park and are 5-8 there since 2010.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Friday - Jake Arrieta (1-1, 2.50 ERA, 1.417 WHIP) vs. Roberto Hernandez (2-4, 4.35 ERA, 1.548 WHIP)
Saturday - Edwin Jackson (4-6, 4.70 ERA, 1.460 WHIP) vs. David Buchanan (1-3, 6.08 ERA, 1.352 WHIP)
Sunday - Travis Wood (6-5, 4.95 ERA, 1.428 WHIP) vs. A.J. Burnett (4-5, 4.24 ERA, 1.437 WHIP)
Yikes. The lowest WHIP of any of the starters in this series is 1.352. And that's from the rookie. Aside from that, the starting pitching in this series looks like a hot mess. Thankfully the Cubs will avoid the only decent starter for the Phillies who isn't injured right now in Cole Hamels (3.07 ERA, 1.203 WHIP). Cliff Lee (3.18 ERA, 1.279 WHIP) is still working his way back from a strained left elbow; he has been on the disabled list since May 19.
The stats for the Phillies' bullpen tend to tell a worse story than what is actually true. They're currently second-worst in the National League in ERA at 4.04 and tenth in WHIP at 1.325, but that's due in large part to a slew of relievers who only made two or three appearances each and were all kinds of bad doing it. Closer Jonathan Papelbon (1.42 ERA, 1.026 WHIP) has been doing extremely well, having only allowed a run in two out of 26 appearances this year. Justin De Fratus (2.57 ERA, 0.857 WHIP) has also helped out significantly since Mike Adams went on the disabled list with an inflamed rotator cuff.
The Phillies offense features four starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750:
To go along with the blah starting pitching in this series, there's also a bunch of blah hitting. The Phillies are in a deadlock with the Cubs in runs scored per game at around 3.88, and are not far ahead of them in either batting average or OPS. Another key player for the Phillies, third-baseman Cody Asche (.258 AVG, .771 OPS), is also on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. Replacement Reid Brignac (.220 AVG, .646 OPS) has not been able to pick up the slack; second replacement Cesar Hernandez (.190 AVG, .504 OPS) may not even know where the rope is.
On the Cubs' side, Starlin Castro has been let into the over-.750 club once again, sneaking in the door with a .759 OPS. Anthony Rizzo has moved to the upper floors at .901, while Luis Valbuena keeps up his torrid month of June and climbs to .859. You'll be happy to know that after Thursday night's game, John Baker's OPS now stands at a robust .396. Okay, maybe you won't be happy to know that. But I had to try to make it sound positive. It's still better than the 0-for-12 Eli Whiteside.
Game 1: Arrieta flashed his best start of the year his last time out against the Marlins, allowing only three hits and walking no one in six innings of work. Hernandez' last four starts have ranged from kinda okay to pretty shaky, and he's allowed a lot of baserunners in each of them. Three of the four starts also resulted in losses. After the bad Thursday game, the Cubs could really use this one as a bounceback.
Game 2: Jackson has returned back to his old ways of pitching somewhere in the area of five to six innings a start and allowing four runs each time. Basically, he's once again the Jackson we've come to dislike. Buchanan hasn't been a lot better on the other side; he's made four starts so far and has allowed four runs or more in three of them, including a seven-run, 10-hit pounding at Washington. Just as in Jackson's last start, you might as well go to the roulette wheel and pick a number.
Game 3: Wood's last start against Pittsburgh wasn't all that impressive but he got the job done, giving up only three runs despite allowing 11 baserunners. Burnett's last outing was good, allowing only two runs after giving up five or more in each of his three previous starts. Of course, his last start was against San Diego, so a grain of salt is needed. In a series of meh pitching matchups, this one looks like the best.
RUSS' PREDICTION: 2-1. The Cubs really need to find a way to get two wins here, especially given that they're not facing either of the top Philly starters. Heading out of Pennsylvania with a 2-5 record would be pretty disappointing.
NEXT STOP: The road trip finishes up as the Cubs head down to Florida to take on the Miami Marlins for the second time in just over a week. Hopefully the Cubs can be as successful as they were the first time.