I hope that everyone enjoyed the easy part of the schedule, because if you haven't looked at the schedule for the last 38 games of the season, I can tell you that it's going to be a heck of a lot tougher from here on out.
After splitting the four-game series with the New York Mets at Citi Field, the Cubs' record stands at 54-70 and they have increased their gap over the Arizona Diamondbacks (53-72) to 1½ games in the National League reverse standings race. They remain one-half game behind the Philadelphia Phillies, currently at 55-70.
The beginning of the 38-game marathon to season's end begins with a six-game homestand against two out-of-division opponents, starting out with the final three games of the year against the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco comes into the series with a record of 65-58, 3½ games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West and one game ahead of the Atlanta Braves for the second Wild Card spot. The Cubs lost two out of three in the series at AT&T Park on May 26-28 and lost three out of four last year against the Giants at Wrigley Field. They are 6-10 against the Giants at Wrigley since 2010.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Tuesday: Ryan Vogelsong (7-8, 3.71 ERA, 1.251 WHIP) vs. Tsuyoshi Wada (2-1, 3.15 ERA, 1.165 WHIP)
Wednesday: Jake Peavy (1-3, 3.86 ERA, 1.208 WHIP) vs. Edwin Jackson (6-13, 5.74 ERA, 1.577 WHIP)
Thursday: Madison Bumgarner (13-9, 3.14 ERA, 1.136 WHIP) vs. Travis Wood (7-10, 4.86 ERA, 1.524 WHIP)
The only starter of the ones on the list that the Cubs have faced previously this year is Peavy, and he was with the Boston Red Sox when it happened. The Cubs won that game 2-0 thanks in large part to a Jake Arrieta gem in which he allowed one hit over 7⅔ scoreless innings on June 30. Bumgarner has always been a tough matchup for the Cubs, posting a career 2.36 ERA and 1.125 WHIP in eight starts. There has been much more success against Vogelsong (5.75 ERA, 1.623 WHIP) although a lot of it traces back to 2004 when he was still with the Pittsburgh Pirates (10.93 ERA, 2.071 WHIP in three starts in 2004).
The Giants offense features four starters whose OPS is at or above .750:
- Michael Morse, LF, .828
- Hunter Pence, RF, .798
- Buster Posey, C, .766
- Pablo Sandoval, 3B, .756
The good news is that this list is somewhat shorter than the last time that the two teams met in San Francisco at the end of May. The only new addition to the list is Sandoval, who has rebounded from the .227 average and .671 OPS he had in the first matchup. The biggest drop since the May series belongs to Brandon Crawford who had a .782 OPS at that time. He has since dropped under the .700 mark to .688, much more in line with his career averages.
The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):
- Anthony Rizzo, .882 (.747)
- Chris Coghlan, .806 (.630)
- Javier Baez, .775 (.768)
- Starlin Castro, .765 (.851)
- Justin Ruggiano, .752 (.769)
Ruggiano has once again found his way through the doors of the over-.750 club thanks to his homer in Saturday's game against the Mets. Given the way that he has bounced in and out of the club, however, I wouldn't expect to see him on the list for too long. The hot hand over the past two weeks currently belongs to Ryan Sweeney who has put together a 9-for-22 stretch in nine games for a .429 average and .931 OPS in that span.
Game 1: This should be the pitchers' duel of the series. Vogelsong has allowed two runs or less in six of his last nine starts, posting game scores of 55 or better in each of those six. Wada has been just about as consistent, posting a 53 or higher in five of his six starts. I said after Wada's last start that I felt a lot better about his performance and much less "smoke-and-mirrors"-ish. Hopefully I didn't jinx anything (because obviously I can do such things with the power of my written word).
Game 2: It's Jackson time again. And there was much rejoicing. I guess if there's a silver lining, it's that Peavy's record this year is a staggering 2-12 and he has allowed three runs or more in three of his four starts since being traded to the Giants on July 26. If he only allows three runs in this start, though, that will probably more than enough to seal the deal for the Giants in this one.
Game 3: Wood is still trying to find his groove again and has been a bit better in his last three starts, allowing three runs or less in each of them after five starts in a row in which he allowed four or more. Bumgarner, on the other hand, has allowed one run or less in four of his last six starts and has only had one subpar start in that time frame, giving up five runs and six hits over four innings on July 28 against Pittsburgh.
RUSS' PREDICTION: 1-2. I'm going to probably be writing "1-2" a lot for the rest of the year, I'm afraid.
NEXT STOP: The homestand ends with some interleague action as the Cubs face the Baltimore Orioles at Wrigley Field for the first time since 2008.