So, uh, kind of a big series, huh?
Kind of. The Cubs are up one game at the moment, and a sweep in either direction could put them up five games, or put us up three games. That's a huge swing, though of course it's unlikely that either team will win all four games. Even a 3-1 advantage, though, could put the Cubs up by three or the Brewers up by one.
But, of course, it is July. The Brewers erased a six-game deficit in less than two weeks, and the first-place team on August 1st is only going to have a slim advantage going forward. At the All-Star break, there was a lot of talk about Milwaukee's easier schedule in the second half, and I think that sort of thing will make the difference--whichever team best beats up on the Pirates, Reds, and Padres will come out on top.
Now that I've got my two killjoy-statboy paragraphs out of the way, let's look at the matchups:
- Monday: Sabathia vs. Lilly
- Tuesday: Sheets vs. Zambrano
- Wednesday: Parra vs. Dempster
- Thursday: Bush vs. Harden
Despite the lame series loss this weekend, the Brewers are the hotter team coming in, having won 8 of the last 10, while the Cubs are 4-6 in that span. Since the break, the pitching has been the big story for the Crew, but all the right guys are swinging the bats, too. Weeks, Hardy, and Braun all have four-digit OPS's (Braun is *slugging* an even 1.000!), and Fielder chimes in at .933. With the exception of Hart's middling .807, the rest of the offense is just letting the top of the order do the work.
The Cubs offense, however, is scuffling. Their first half OPS was .802 -- since the break, it's been .729. Of Aramis, Derrek Lee, Fukudome, Soto, and DeRosa, Fukudome has the highest OPS, at .701. (That's...Nationals-esque.) Some or all of those guys will bounce back, of course, but the big offensive stars of the second half have been...Reed Johnson and Mike Fontenot. What's remarkable is that, even after this rough 10-game stretch (*really* rough for DeRosa and Soto) the Cubs are above average on offense at every single position.
Thanks in large part to Dempster (1 ER in 14 IP!) and Harden (2 ER in 12 IP), the pitching staff has been excellent. It's the bullpen (and, let's face it, a bit of bad luck) that has let them down, as Wood is unavailable, Marmol is showing signs of wear, and Piniella isn't at his best when he has to improvise a few innings without his regular guys. (Few managers are, but most are better than Lou.)
Of course, the x-factor is Ray Durham. The Cubs may have moved quickly to answer the Sabathia acquisition, but have they done anything lately? Can you really expect to win the division without a versatile lefty bench bat to motivate a struggling starter?
Yeah, that's what I thought. Series goes to the Brewers, 3-1.