Series Preview: Pirates vs. Cubs Part 4: The Bloodening
It's been a while since the Cubs played the Pirates. When last they met, Pittsburgh managed to squeak out a couple of close wins, although the Cubs can still thank Pittsburgh for their huge run differential, as they've lit up the Pirates staff like they're firecrackers. The Cubs are presently clicking on all cylinders, riding a 5-game winning streak, and the Pirates have just sent their greatest offensive asset to the Red Sox for a plague of prospects who are not likely to have an impact in the NL Central for a year or more, if ever at all based on the Pirates' past luck. Let's take a look at the match-ups:
The Pitching Match-Ups:
Friday, August 1st Jason Marquis (6-6, 4.68 ERA) vs. Jeff Karstens (First Appearance this year)
Ah yes, the weak link of the Cubs rotation opens the series by squaring off against a newly acquired Yankees prospect with a career ERA of 5.65 in 57.1 innings of work.
Marquis has been exactly what we thought he'd be - inconsistent leaning toward terrible. He is, at best, the 6th best starter on the squad, and he may even be the 7th. However, the cost of his contract pretty much guarantees his placement in the rotation, and at this point I have to think that we mostly agree that the Cubs could very well be better off had Hendry never signed him.
Karstens, on the other hand, has yet to not struggle at the Major League level. His minor league totals aren't outstanding either - he's 44-31 in 113 games pitched with an ERA of 3.52. Hey, you never know, he might be starting pitcher material, but he's not about to bust out against this Cubs offense. Marquis be damned, I like the Cubs chances today.
Saturday, August 2nd Ted Lilly (10-6, 4.49 ERA) vs. Paul Maholm (7-6, 3.79 ERA)
Hard to believe that Lilly's ERA is only 0.19 runs better than that of Marquis. He's been working hard all year long to get that ERA to look respectable, and I am convinced that he will finish the season with an ERA in the high 3's. It can't hurt to face an offense as decimated as the Pirates.
Maholm is 26 and has seen a fair amount of success this year. He's only faced the Cubs once, in a game in which he surrendered 5 runs in 8 innings (although the Pirates still managed to win). The Cubs will be seeking revenge tomorrow.
Sunday, August 3rd Carlos Zambrano (12-4, 2.80 ERA) vs. Ian Snell (4-8, 6.04 ERA)
Zambrano, no longer the clear-cut best pitcher on the roster, looks to pad his numbers against the Pirates on Sunday. The Moose is coming off an intensely focused start against the Brewers, but he threw 118 pitches and I for one will be looking closely to see if fatigue is a factor.
Ian Snell is yet another young Pirates pitcher of questionable major league talent. He won 14 in 2006, and his best ERA was in '07 at 3.76, but this year Snell is Marquis-like in his mediocrity. In fact, one of his best starts came against the Cubs on April 18th, although the Pirates lost that game despite Snell's 6 inning, 3-run game.
Not too long ago, I was thinking about the best period of the season so far this year - May 29th through June 3rd, when the Cubs won 9 straight. I thought at the time, "why is it that good teams can win 9 straight once, but usually not twice in a season?" Maybe it's a simple thought and a stupid one, but I have been described as being both of those things in the past.
Point is, why couldn't the Cubs string together another big winning streak? Maybe the previous answer is that injuries were a contributing factor to the team's inability to win lots of games in a row, but the offense is healthy, the rotation is strong, and even without Kerry Wood, the bullpen is doing well.
In other words, I hope and believe that the Cubs can and will beat up on the Pirates some more. It should happen, it could happen, hopefully it will happen. But even if it doesn't, I still wouldn't want to be a Brewer fan right now. The Cubs have a firm grip on the NL Central, and I don't expect that to change.