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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Rays series preview

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The Cubs play their final interleague games of 2017.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — I’m here in Florida for this two-game set, and this will be the first trip back to Tampa to face his old team for Joe Maddon since he departed as Rays manager after the 2014 season. It’ll be interesting to see the reaction of Rays fans to Joe, although there are likely to be almost as many (if not more) Cubs fans as Rays fans in attendance at the Trop. Here’s what Joe said about his return:

"I anticipate nothing but positive, lively discussions with friends," Maddon said last week. "I plan on enjoying it. Taking it slowly. Really looking forward to seeing so many people who I owe a debt of gratitude to. I don't have any negative feelings at all in that building."

Also returning to Tampa are former Rays Ben Zobrist, Rene Rivera and Wade Davis. Zobrist and Davis have been in Tampa as visiting players before, most recently as members of the 2015 Royals. Rivera played for the Rays in 2015 and has not yet returned as a visitor.

The Cubs adjusted their rotation for this series, moving Jon Lester back a day and giving the Tuesday start to Mike Montgomery. This sets up Lester to start the first game against the Cardinals in St. Louis next Monday. He’s got an excellent record against them since he came to the Cubs in 2015.

Here’s more on the Rays from Danny Russell, managing editor of our SB Nation Rays site DRays Bay:

The Tampa Bay Rays are mostly done. Their chances at making the playoffs are a statistical oddity at this point, and with 12 games to go, they're more in it for the fun of playing the sport than anything else.

Chris Archer, a player traded away by the Cubs, facing Mike Montgomery, a player traded away by the Rays, is also an interesting twist. Archer is one of the 10-15 best starters in baseball getting weird results, while the Rays have to throw the scrap heap players off the bench at any lefthanded starter. Considering the Cubs have more to play for in holding down the division lead, y'all can eke this one out.

In terms of narrative, Joe Maddon returning home shortly after donating $25,000 in hurricane relief money is a sight for sore eyes. He returns home with the championship he couldn't win with Tampa Bay. I hope he's warmly welcomed.

Following Montgomery with an ace in Lester, another southpaw, against a sophomore starter still working through his approach, and this two-game set is winnable for Chicago.

Chris Sale recently surrendered four runs to the Rays in 5⅔ innings, though, so who knows.

Fun fact

After going 2-6 in interleague play before the All-Star break this year, the Cubs are 9-1 vs. A.L. teams since the break: 3-0 vs. the Orioles, 3-1 vs. the White Sox and 3-0 vs. the Blue Jays. That’s an overall mark of 11-7 so far this year in interleague play. Last year the Cubs went 15-5 vs. A.L. teams.

Pitching matchups

Tuesday: Mike Montgomery, LHP (6-8, 3.57 ERA, 1.276 WHIP, 4.12 FIP) vs. Chris Archer, RHP (9-10, 4.06 ERA, 1.261 WHIP, 3.36 FIP)

Wednesday: Jon Lester, LHP (11-7, 4.30 ERA, 1.313 WHIP, 4.05 FIP) vs. Blake Snell, LHP (3-6, 4.25 ERA, 1.373 WHIP, 4.36 FIP)

Times & TV channels

Tuesday: 6:10 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago

Wednesday: 6:10 p.m. CT, WGN

Prediction

When these teams met back in July at Wrigley Field, the Cubs were struggling (they’d lost four of six entering that series) and the Rays were in strong wild-card contention and only 5½ games out of first place in the A.L. East.

Since the end of that July set, the Cubs are 41-24, the best record in the N.L. and second-best in baseball behind the Indians. The Rays are 29-35 since that Wrigley series, have lost nine of their last 14, and have dropped out of contention. Also, the move of Montgomery into this series could help, as the Rays are just 17-27 vs. lefthanded starters.

As noted above, the Cubs have been very good in interleague play since the All-Star break, and they have played very well the last week. They’ll have the advantage of being able to use Kyle Schwarber as a DH in this two-game set, and so I predict they’ll take both of these games.

Up next

The Cubs head to Milwaukee for an important four-game series against the Brewers beginning Thursday evening.

Poll

How many games will the Cubs win against the Rays?

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  • 63%
    2
    (282 votes)
  • 31%
    1
    (142 votes)
  • 4%
    0
    (21 votes)
445 votes total Vote Now