Cubs in first; but for how long?
The Cubs are in first! How lovely.
Considering the astounding number of talking heads and idiot columnists in the sports world these days, I'm kinda surprised no one wrote about this a few days back. The Cubs' sweep of the Reds was not an earth-shattering result, and did anyone really expect the Cardinals to beat the Phillies at home?
As a result, we get to have that, "If the season ended right now..." conversation as many times as we'd like today. Of course, we've still got more than one-third left of the season to play out before anything's decided. With that, I thought I'd take a look at both teams' upcoming schedules, to get a gauge on what's reasonable to expect going forward.
The Cubs and Cards each close out the month of July with a four-gamer. Both teams are at home, but the quality of their opponents isn't quite equal.
The Cubs take on the Astros, a team that has somehow played its way into third place in the NL Central. It's true that the offense has some pretty huge holes in it throughout the line-up. However, as you'll see in the upcoming Series Preview, the Cubs have a couple of tough pitching match-ups ahead of them. Neither of the first two games (Z vs. Wandy, Demp vs. Oswalt) will be easy wins by any means. If the Cubs drop both, they'll need Randy Wells and Kevin Hart to pitch well against Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz to salvage a series split.
At the same time, it doesn't look like the Cardinals will have much of an advantage in any of their match-ups, either. Their series probables are: Wolf vs. Carpenter, Billingsley vs. Wainwright, Kershaw vs. somebody (TBA), and Kuroda vs. Lohse. If Carp and Wainwright go nuts, the Cards might get lucky with Lohse and take three of four. More likely, they'll split, or worse.
It'll be important for the Cubs to pick up a game on their way into August, because it'll be a tough month to try to stay in the lead.
Generally, there's the issue of opponents' winning percentage. The Cards take on teams with a collective .449 winning percentage, while the Cubs take on a schedule with a .490 percentage.
There are a few key series that explain the difference in strength of schedule. The Cardinals have arguably one tough series, a three-gamer at Los Angeles. In contrast, the Cubs have three difficult series in August: four games of their own at Dodger Stadium, playing host for three games to the Phillies, and four games in Colorado against a surprisingly spunky Rockies team.
Pitching match-ups and reinforcements from the disabled list will hopefully give the Cubs the extra oomph they need to carry the division lead into September. In the meantime, it'll be important to take advantage of this next series, to try to get some breathing room before heading into August.