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Cubs-Reds Preview: May 7- May 9

Add Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton and Brian Burres to the list of opposing starting pitchers that Cubs hitters can’t solve.

I don’t even think those guys have baseball cards.

The North Siders (13-16) dropped all three games to the Pittsburgh Pirates and now find themselves in fourth place in the National League Central.

Next up for the Cubs is a three-game set in Cincinnati, and they face the same starters they faced in the second series of the season—when they dropped two of three.

The Cubs have called up phenom shortstop Starlin Castro, and he is expected to be in the lineup tonight batting eighth.

It’s all that management can do to hide a disappointing start to the season. I think it might be a little premature though.


Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds

Pitching matchups are subject to change.

Friday, May 7: Carlos Silva (2-0, 2.90) vs. Homer Bailey (0-1, 6.04)
Saturday, May 8: Tom Gorzelanny (1-3, 2.48) vs. Aaron Harang (1-4, 6.68)
Sunday, May 9: Ryan Dempster (2-2, 2.95) vs. Mike Leake (2-0, 2.94)


On the Mound

Carlos Silva had his worst outing as a member of the Cubs his last time out.

He gave up five runs on eight hits in five innings against the Diamondbacks, making it his shortest outing of the season.

Silva has been dealing with a sore wrist since April 21, and the original plan was to give him an extra day of rest between starts. That plan was scratched and he’s back on track. Keep a close eye on the big man.

Keep in mind—Silva started the ’08 season 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA in his first six starts and finished the season with just one more win, going 4-15 with a 6.46 ERA.


At the Plate

Let’s hope we look back on this day five years from now as the day the Starlin Castro era took off.

Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes first reported that the phenom shortstop had been called up by the big league club, and that report has since been confirmed.

Castro, 20, is projected to be in the starting lineup tonight (May 7) and bat eight in the order. Theriot moves over to second base to make room for Castro.

At Double-A Tennessee, Castro hit .376 with one home run, 14 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in 26 games. He also stole four bases and was caught five times.


Left On Base

37—that’s the number of runners left on base by the Cubs in their embarrassing three game sweep at the hands of the Pirates.

Piniella once again played around with the lineup, flip-flopping Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez in the fifth and sixth spots.

The Cubs were doing well in their four-game set against the D’Backs—8.25 runs per game—so it’s hard to understand why Lou felt the need to change things up.


Series Prediction

Reds, 2-1

I think I’ve impressively picked one of nine series so far, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cubs turn on a switch and light up the Reds over the weekend.

Cincinnati already took two of three at Great American Ballpark earlier this year, so let’s go with that again. Cubs should be able to take advantage of seeing Mike Leake and Homer Bailey for the second time though.

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Chicago Cubs-Pittsburgh Pirates Preview: May 4-May 6

Death, taxes and a losing record for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Those are the only certainties in life.

Okay, so it’s not a total guarantee, but the Buccos have failed to produce a winning record the past 18 seasons and 2010 doesn’t appear to be a winner either.

The Cubs had a .714 winning percentage (10-4) against Pittsburgh in ‘09, which was tied for the team’s highest winning percentage against a single opponent.

Under Lou Piniella, the Cubs are 32-15 against the Pirates.

One reason the Pirates (10-15) aren’t going anywhere again this year is because the team has given up a MLB-high 175 runs to its opponents, which is 19 runs more than the second highest team—the Arizona Diamondbacks, who the Cubs just scored 33 runs on in four games.

PNC Park isn’t the friendliest hitters’ park, but the Cubs did manage to hit .281 with 28 runs and seven home runs in six games last year.

Coming off an impressive series against the D’Backs, anything short of a three-game sweep for the Cubs (13-13) would be a disappointment.

Chicago cubs @ Pittsburgh Pirates

Pitching matchups are subject to change .

Tuesday, May 4: Ryan Dempster (2-1, 2.78) vs. Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.83)
Wednesday, May 5: Ted Lilly (1-1, 4.91) vs. Charlie Morton (0-5, 12.57)
Thursday, May 6: Randy Wells (3-0, 3.45) vs. TBD

On the Mound

Surprisingly, the Pirates are one of the few teams that have befuddled Dempster in his career. Dempster is 6-7 with a 5.46 ERA against the Buccos, but some of that ERA can be attributed to 25 relief appearances as a closer.

That being said, he hasn’t lost to Pittsburgh since 2006.

Dempster has been a much better pitcher on the road to start the year. He’s 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA in two road starts and 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA in three home games.

Got ‘Yo Number

Cubs pitching went 10-4 with a 3.12 ERA against the Pirates last year, which was the staff’s best winning percentage (with four or more starts) against a single opponent.

At PNC Park, the staff compiled a 5-1 record and a 2.55 ERA in six starts. The Pirates’ staff went 4-10 with a 5.49 ERA against the Cubs in ’09.

At the Plate

The Cubs have two hitting streaks that have reached double digits in Ryan Theriot (12 games) and Mike Fontenot (10 games).

Theriot has six hits in 18 career at-bats against Maholm and four hits in six at-bats against Morton. Fontenot is one for four against Maholm and has never faced Morton.

If I had to choose one player, I’d pick Theriot to leave Pittsburgh with his hitting streak intact.

Series Prediction

Cubs, 3-0

I’m not just predicting a sweep because it would be a disappointment not to take all three, but the Cubs did enough to show me they can take advantage of below average pitching. Pittsburgh’s relievers have compiled a 5.83 ERA, the second worst in the majors, and the Cubs just pounded the D’Backs relief corps, who have the worst ERA in the MLB.

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Chicago Cubs Stats: Pertinent Numbers from a .500 Ball Club

The Cubs begin May 3 with an average—at best—record of 13-13 and find themselves 4.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals (17-8) in the National League Central.

Starting pitching remains the team’s strong suit. But if you haven’t noticed, the Cubs—outside of Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez—are starting to hit.

Chicago spent the first two weeks of the season at the bottom of nearly every major offensive category, but the team is now second in the National League in hitting at .278. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks (.476) have a higher slugging percentage than the Cubs (.445).

There’s no reason to believe the Cubs will continue to hit at this kind of pace, but it’s closer to what many expected from one of the more talented lineups in the NL—at least on paper.

If the hitting continues at even a fraction of this pace and the pitching stays on course, Chicago should have no problem keeping above .500 in a weak NL Central—outside of the Cardinals.

For your enjoyment, here’s a collection of stats of the first month-plus from a .500 ball club.


Hit parade: Ryan Theriot leads the NL with 39 hits. Marlon Byrd is second with 35.

Strong start: In 2009, Kosuke Fukudome hit .338 with four home runs and 14 RBI in April. He finished the year with 11 home runs and 54 RBI. This April, Fukudome batted .344 with five home runs and 16 RBI.

Lou Piniella likes to share: Fukudome has played in all 26 games this year. Byrd has played in 25, and Alfonso Soriano and Tyler Colvin have both played in 24.

Around the bases: Soriano and Byrd are second in the NL with 15 extra-base hits.

Six-hole magic: Batting in the sixth spot, Soriano is on pace to hit 37 home runs, score 93 runs, and drive in 105 RBI. He’s also on pace for 93 strikeouts, which would be his lowest ever in a full season.

Base hogs: Geovany Soto leads the NL with a .487 OBP. Fukudome is third with a .438 OBP.

Hit-men not hitting: Lee and Ramirez aren’t in the top 10 of any major offensive category. That’s not good when seven of the team’s 13 losses have come by one or two runs.

League leaders: The Cubs have three of the top 10 NL leaders in batting average (Theriot, Byrd, and Fukudome) and four in the top 15 (Soriano).

Nasty stuff: Carlos Marmol is third in the NL with 17.76 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s struck out three batters in four of his 10 appearances and two or more seven times.

Biz Z big in the ‘pen:  Chicago is 3-0 in games that Carlos Zambrano has appeared in as a reliever. Zambrano is 12th in the NL with 4.20 pitches per plate appearance.

Overworked: Sean Marshall has made the third most appearances in the National League with 14, and John Grabow has made the sixth most with 13.

Can’t get any relief: Opposing batters are hitting .349 against Grabow. In 30 games with the Cubs in 2009, opposing batters hit just .209 off the lefty. Grabow walked 12 batters in 25 innings with the Cubs in ’09, but he has already allowed five walks in 9.2 innings this year.

Dealing: Cubs starting pitching ranks fourth in the National League with a 3.60 ERA. The bullpen ranks ninth with a 4.52 ERA. Cubs starters have logged 157.1 innings so far. Only the St. Louis Cardinals (165.2 innings) have more.

Quality and quantity: Ryan Dempster is eighth in the NL with 35.2 innings pitched and has the second most quality starts with four. Carlos Silva also has four, and Randy Wells has three.

Award-worthy: Wells has the third highest K/BB ratio in the National League at 5.40. Only Roy Halladay (9.75) and Tim Lincecum (6.14) are better.

No free passes: Silva has walked only six batters in 31 innings, which is 20th best in the NL.

WHIP it good: Dempster (0.98), Silva (1.00), and Gorzelanny (1.10) are all in the top 15 among starters for WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in the National League.

Blowing up: Chicago has the third most blown saves in the NL with four. Marmol has one.

Throwing it away: Cubs pitchers lead the league with eight errors.

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