On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Red Sox Series Preview

Somewhere in that pile is Mike Napoli, who was the reason for its existence in the first place. - David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs head back on the road after a 4-6 homestand, starting off with three games of interleague play against the Boston Red Sox.

After winning the first two games of the series against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs had to settle for a split as they dropped both ends of the Saturday doubleheader by the scores of 3-0 and 7-2.  They finished the homestand at a disappointing 4-6, bringing their overall record to 34-46, one game better than the Arizona Diamondbacks (35-49) and percentage points behind the San Diego Padres (35-47) in the continuing race for the National League cellar.

The Cubs now return to the road for 11 games, starting off with their first series at Fenway Park in three years as they play their only three games of the year against the Boston Red Sox. Boston comes into the series with a record of 38-44, six games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East and returning home after a 4-6 road trip against Oakland, Seattle, and the New York Yankees. The last time that the Cubs visited Fenway Park they won one game out of three, back when the starting rotation included such names as Doug Davis, Carlos Zambrano, and James Russell. Those were some fun times back then.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Monday - Jake Arrieta (4-1, 2.05 ERA, 1.105 WHIP) vs. Jake Peavy (1-6, 4.93 ERA, 1.459 WHIP)
Tuesday -
Edwin Jackson (5-8, 5.22 ERA, 1.517 WHIP) vs. Clay Buchholz (3-4, 6.75 ERA, 1.849 WHIP)
Wednesday - Travis Wood (7-6, 4.52 ERA, 1.401 WHIP) vs. Brandon Workman (1-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.065 WHIP)

The Cubs dodge a major bullet in this series as they will not face two of the best Red Sox starters: Jon Lester (9-7, 2.92 ERA, 1.184 WHIP) and John Lackey (8-5, 3.45 ERA, 1.196 WHIP). The rotation has not been a strong spot for the Red Sox this year; they are 10th in the American League in ERA (4.13) and ninth in WHIP (1.338) and OPS against (.742).

The bullpen is a different story, as closer Koji Uehara (1.23 ERA, 0.736 WHIP) continues to be dominant, albeit with a peculiar stat line; he has allowed five runs all year and has also given up five home runs, so you can do the math. The bullpen behind Uehara is also strong and includes lefty Andrew Miller (2.61 ERA, 0.968 WHIP) and righties Burke Badenhop (1.77 ERA, 1.254 WHIP) and Junichi Tazawa (2.20 ERA, 1.102 WHIP).

THE OFFENSE:

The Red Sox offense features three starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750:

Holt has made the most of his time with the Red Sox this year after initially getting called up to replace the ineffective Ryan Roberts. He moved to right field after hamstring and back injuries to Shane Victorino and the release of Grady Sizemore but was back at third base Sunday night after the Red Sox called up Mookie Betts from Triple-A Pawtucket. Also missing from the Red Sox is Will Middlebrooks, who has been out since May 17 with a fractured right index finger. Stephen Drew has been struggling since being re-signed by the Red Sox, posting a .344 OPS since his season debut on June 2.

On the Cubs' side, the four-game series against Washington started out well for Anthony Rizzo but ended with a whimper, dropping his OPS to a still-very-impressive .906. Starlin Castro also dropped a bit, falling to .798, while Luis Valbuena rose to .809 on the back of a four-game hit streak. The only other name above the .700 mark is Justin Ruggiano at .718, and then it's the general malaise that is known all too well after that.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: Peavy has had a very up-and-down year and has allowed four or more runs in four of his last five starts, including seven in his last start at Seattle. As for Arrieta, history is not on his side in this game; he has made six appearances, five of which were starts, against the Red Sox to the tune of an 0-3 record with a 5.90 ERA and 1.586 WHIP. However, the 2014 Arrieta is a much different pitcher than the 2010 through 2013 versions, so hopefully results will be different this time around.

Game 2: Yikes. About the only thing that should be interesting about this game is where the over/under lands. I'd put it at about 10½, and even that may be too low.

Game 3: Workman found his way into the rotation as a result of a shoulder injury that sent Felix Doubront to the disabled list in late May. He has performed very well in Doubront's place, allowing three runs or less in all of his starts except his last one against the Yankees. Despite Doubront's return from his injury, Workman remains in the rotation with Doubront moving to the bullpen. Wood continues to give up a lot of baserunners but somehow has managed to keep the run total down in the process, allowing three runs or less in his last five starts.

RUSS' PREDICTION: You know, something about this series just makes me feel like there's a chance for something good to happen. I'm not sure why that is, and I didn't even drink any Kool-Aid this weekend, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say 2-1 for this series. It's not a very big limb, but it's a limb.

NEXT STOP: The road trip continues as the Cubs face a very familiar foe, completing their season series with the Washington Nationals over the Fourth of July weekend.

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