Series Preview: Cubs at White Sox
It's not exactly a question of which team is the most dominant anymore. That was answered a week ago in Chicago. It's more that, as the Cubs travel less than an hour down 90 to the home of their bitter Little Brothers, they are looking to complete the month of June swoon-free despite having played most of it without their best-hitting outfielder and ace, All Star-caliber pitcher.
Actually, a lot of what we thought would happen has been happening. Yep, that's us folks, we're collectively one of blogging's best baseball minds*, and one of the least sarcastic.
(*Between the six of us, we're brilliant!)
At the start of the month, we took a look at the Cubs schedule and noted the following hurdles: 17 road games out of 27 games played. 22 of 27 games were to be played against teams who, at the start of the month, had better-than-.500 records. We predicted at that time that, if the Cubs could even go 14-13, that would a) be a success and b) probably keep them in first place.
As the month proceeded, the road got tougher. Alfonso Soriano broke his hand on June 11th. Carlos Zambrano had to suppress a small, communist revolution in his shoulder on June 18th. Carlos Marmol briefly thought his nickname was "Wild Thing." Eventually, I believe I told Jon Miller on his show that, as the month rolled forward, the Cardinals would not be likely to catch the Cubs, but the 2nd and 3rd place teams would probably be bunched together 3 or 4 games back. (Or at least, I said something to that effect. I might be exaggerating a bit to make meself sound more prophetic.)
Regardless, the Cubs now play 4 more games this month, and they have already won 14. At this stage, of the 23 games they've played so far including 13 on the road, 9 games were against teams currently with winning records. The Cubs have been a wrecking crew, and they are separating the men from the boys this month.
All of that leads up to this, a 3-game series in which a single win promises Chicago dominance to the Cubs for 2008, at least until October rolls around. Let's take a look at it in depth.
Friday, June 27th - Ryan Dempster vs. Jose Contreras
The last time the Cubs faced the White Sox, Contreras battled Marquis. It proved to be a very fun game for the Cubs, who spent an inning teeing off on Contreras as if it was batting practice. Jose would later say that he'd never had an inning like that in his entire career. Let's not make too much of it, but if the Cubs have gotten into his head, this could be an excellent follow-up. However, Contreras wouldn't be a Major League pitcher if he didn't have a backbone, and he will very likely be determined to shut the Cubs down tonight.
Clownsevelt, meanwhile, looks to cement his place in the All Star Game next month. He has quickly become a dominating factor in the Cubs rotation, and at this stage I probably wouldn't feel nervous to see him pitch a big game in October. But now that I've buttered him up, I'm sure he'll proceed to roll over tonight and surrender 6 runs, or something equally predictable.
Saturday, June 28th - Sean Gallagher vs. Javier Vazquez
Vazquez is another White Sox pitcher the Cubs got the better of last weekend. I can just imagine Ozzie Gullien cornering his trio of starters in the clubhouse before today's game, his pudgy face reddening as spittle flies out of his mouth, while he screams vulgarities at them in Spanish because he's demented and demanding. Actually, he's probably not that bad, but he's still a douche.
Sean Gallagher last pitched in Tampa, where he gave the Cubs 6 strong innings in a no-decision. In 4 starts this month, Irish has an ERA of 3.32, but he's also only gotten out of the 5th inning once. At this point, he's doing well for the Cubs, but I would like to see him step up a little and perhaps give the team a few more innings and a few more wins out of his young arm.
Sunday, June 29th - Sean Marshall vs. Mark Buehrle
Buehrle didn't get to face the Cubs last weekend, a fact that probably pleased the north siders. While his numbers have been far from dominant this season (5-6, 4.04 ERA), his June has been fantastic. Buehrle is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA so far this month. Hey, you know what that means. The odds dictate that he's due to get rocked a little.
Sean Marshall, meanwhile, lacked in plus pitches in his previous start. He looked great during his first go-round against the Orioles, but the second time up they seemed to have realized that it was actually pretty easy to hit the guy. And then they hit him for 4 earned runs in 4.2 innings of work. Ugly. However, Marshall has shown in the past that he can git 'er done, and he has had a decent amount of success in past starts. Don't get me wrong, this has the potential to be a flat-out brutal game on the Cubs and I wouldn't be shocked to se Piniella rest some starters.
Predictions: Eh. I kind of hate making predictions about a short series. The Cubs dominated the White Sox last weekend at Wrigley, but they have continued to lose close games on the road in June. Because these losses are close, and because the Cubs are a complete team, I have to suspect that at some point they're going to go on a road rampage, so to speak, but will it be this weekend? Will it be after the break? I dunno. If it's ever going to happen, it'll probably be when everybody's healthy.
Therefore, I'm predicting two wins this series for Chicago - but I'm going to take the wuss-route and not tell you which "Chicago" I'm talking about. But, you never know, Chicago could sweep Chicago. The potential is there, depending on the momentum. And yes, I know I'm an ass.