We all know how the story has gone for the Cubs this year. Great pitching from the starting rotation, the very best in all of baseball in fact. The Bullpen struggled at first but seems to have rebounded nicely now. The defense and base running have been a bit sloppy but decent and the offense has been horrendous. Overall expectations have not been met and fans are not happy. On the other side of Chicago the story has been a similar one for the White Sox.
The defending AL Central champs have struggled to stay at .500 this year and like their north side rivals the biggest reason for this is a struggling offense. The White Sox rank just 11th in the American League in runs and are scoring fewer runs a a game then even our Cubs are. Their pitching has been solid however, ranking 4th best in the AL in ERA. So what does that tell us about this week's cross town series? I'd say plan for some low scoring games.
Today's game at Wrigley will feature Cubs' ace Carlos Zambrano. Z has looked fantastic in his last couple starts since coming off his 6 game suspension. He has allowed just one run in his past 15 and 2/3rds innings, improving his season ERA to 3.39. Zambrano has had good success against the southsiders in his career. In 9 starts he has a 5-2 record. Opposing him will be the Sox 2008 breakout ace John Danks. Last year he won 12 games against 9 losses with an ERA of 3.32. 2009 has not been as kind to Danks however. After a hot start in April, he has struggled since and has an ERA of 4.81 with a record of 4-5. Lately the Cubs offense has provided a nice way for pitchers to get back on track though.
Tuesday's night game, will then be followed by a day game Wednesday with a pitching match-up of Cubs rookie Randy Wells facing Gavin Floyd. Another day game Thursday will feature Ryan Dempster versus the veteran Jose Contreras. With both teams struggling they will be looking to use the cross town energy to light a spark and get them going.
So who has the better team this year and what can we expect from this series? Here are my feelings about where I see these two teams.
The Cubs have the best starting pitcher's ERA in all of baseball. They have 5 consistent pitchers that have kept the Cubs close in nearly every game this year and somehow have kept the team at .500. Zambrano has looked fantastic of late, Wells has had 6 great starts in 7 outings and Dempster is finally starting to look like the Dempster of last year. The Cubs best pitcher this year, Ted Lilly, will not pitch in the series.
On the Sox side, Danks is struggling to re-find his magic from last year and Gavin Floyd has really struggled this year. 10 days ago I would have said that Jose Contreras has been a mess this year, but two fantastic starts his last two times out have made it look like he might be finally getting things going. Like the Cubs, the Sox will not have their best pitcher this year, Mark Buerhle, pitching in this series.
Edge: White Sox
The Cubs bullpen has been much improved lately. Angel Guzman has been rock solid all season, and despite giving up a horde of walks, Carlos Marmol is not giving up any hits and not many runs. Lefties Sean Marshall and Jason Waddell have both pitched well since joining the bullpen, replacing lefty Neal Cotts who couldn't get anyone out early in the year. Aaron Heilman seems to be throwing better and even Jose Ascanio is throwing well. Kevin Gregg remains the Cubs closer, and despite not great stuff has been serviceable in the role saving saving 10 games in 12 chances.
On the Sox side, their bullpen might be the most reliable part of their entire team. Dotel, Thornton and Linebrink have all been great out of the pen all year. Carassaco has been very good in long relief as well, and Jenks has 14 saves on the year in 16 chances. The Cubs may need to score their runs off the rotation in this series as they have really struggled hitting good bullpen pitching this year, like the Sox have.
Both team defenses are in the middle of the pack in fielding percentage. The Cubs have a pretty steady defense, they usually catch what they can get to but rarely make great plays, unless Reed Johnson or Andres Blanco is in the game. They have made some dumb plays in the field this year, especially in Left Field, but their defense is good enough not to allow too much extra.
The Sox defense has been similar. They tend to have a little bit more range on the infield than the Cubs but have a slow outfield. Overall I don't think either defense will be too much of a problem or an advantage.
Really looking at these offense, they are two big piles of underachieving crap. The Cubs have dealt with an injury to Aramis Ramirez, and the Sox are dealing with a similar situation with Carlos Quentin. Jermaine Dye and Derrek Lee have been the best hitters of late for their respective teams, but both teams have a lot of players playing well under their expected levels.
One major disadvantage the Sox have in this particular series is that DH Jim Thome, who has been solid this year, will have to come off the bench. Because of that, in this specific series, I think the Cubs may have a slight advantage here, especially with Carlos Zambrano in the lineup. When the series moves to the south side next week however, the Sox will have the advantage.
Overall I think the teams match up very well against each other. Last year the teams split 3-3 and all time the cross town series is tied at 33-33. Both teams would love to take 5 of 6 this year and start a spark that could carry on in to future series, but I think that is pretty unlikely. If I had to guess, I would say this year's series will be much of the same. I'll predict each team wins 3 games this year and the Cubs and Sox will both stay stuck in mediocrity for the time being.
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