Series Preview: Cubs at Astros
Had a good break? Lord knows it felt too long to me.
The Cubs will be on the road for the next six days, playing such thrilling teams as the last place Houston Astros, and the first-by-a-nose Arizona Diamond-backs. The Astros, who were a good team for a very long time, have been struggling fiercely this summer. They are 44-51, 13 games behind the Cubs, and aside from the heroic output of Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, the team is mostly comprised by a bunch of empty shirts. Which isn't to say that Berkman and Lee aren't dangerous enough to win games for those guys - they just go to show that not even a team with two terrific hitters can compete if they can't manage two above average starting pitchers. Anyway, on to the match-ups:
The Pitching Match-Ups:
Friday, July 18th - Ted Lilly (9-6, 4.68 ERA) vs. Brian Moehler (5-4, 4.28 ERA)
On paper, this doesn't look like too bad of a match-up for the Astros. Moehler has a 3.97 ERA as a starting pitcher this year, and while the 36-year-old isn't about to pitch his way into the Hall of Fame, he's had a couple of very steady months for the Astros. Unfortunately for Houston, one of those steady months hasn't been July - he's been man-handled in his 2 starts this month, against the Pirates and Braves. Plus, in his last start against the Cubs, he was chased after 5 innings en route to a Cubs 7-2 victory.
Lilly, meanwhile, continues the long, arduous task of bringing his ERA back to a respectable level. He's been laboring to accomplish that feat ever since the end of April, and he hasn't done himself many favors in his last two outings. Lilly was chased quickly by the Reds on the 10th, and he's looking for a rebound win here.
Saturday, July 19th - Carlos Zambrano (10-3, 2.84 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (4-3, 3.48 ERA)
The Big Moose is back, and he's out for vengeance... not that Houston has done anything he needs to revenge. Carlos beat the Astros the last time he faced them, and so far this month he's 2-0 with an ERA of 0.64. After a 2-inning All Star outing in which he made the American League All Stars look like a bunch of buffoons, Carlos will look to carry that momentum into the second game of the second half.
Wandy Rodriguez, meanwhile, has a very silly name. I'm not sure if he's a pitcher or a male porn star. What he has been, however, is a steady arm on a crappy Astros squad. He had a great June, posting a 2.38 ERA, but in 3 starts in July it would appear as though his magical wandy - heh, bad pun - has broken, as he has an ERA of 6.89. He hasn't faced the Cubs this year.
Sunday, July 20th - Ryan Dempster (10-4, 3.25 ERA) vs. Brandon Backe (6-9, 4.76 ERA)
It's the unstoppable force vs. the immovable object. Ryan Dempster, who has yet to win a game on the road all year long, takes on Brandon Backe, who's managed a mere 3 wins at home while posting a near-5 ERA. If Clownsevelt is to be relied upon at all in October, then the Cubs will need to know that he has the capacity to win outside of Wrigley Field. Mostly, it's been bad luck that's stopped him - he's 0-3 in 8 starts on the road, and his ERA is 4.03. As a team, the Cubs are 3-5 in his road game starts, and part of the problem has been that they have struggled to mount an offense during those games. There is perhaps no better place than Houston to reverse those fortunes, and Dempster is very, very overdue for a win.
Even though it's on the road, there's nothing quite as comforting as opening the second half by playing the worst team in your division. The Cubs could and should manhandle the Astros. However, the real story of the coming week won't be this series, or even the next one against Arizona. It will be the looming return of Alfonso Soriano, who may be only a week away.
At the very least, Dempster should get his first road victory of the year, and I also predict that, if Lou turns to Marmol in yet another blowout, the heads of Cub fans everywhere will pop like corks from champagne bottles.