An Important Stretch for Lou Piniella’s Crew

While many will focus on the next three games with the White Sox, and rightfully so, the Cubs begin a very important stretch of games on Tuesday night. Lou Piniella’s crew begins a string of 23 games in a row without a day off and between Tuesday and the All-Star break they will play 27 games in 27 days that concludes with a day-night doubleheader against the Cardinals on July 12.

The Cubs figure to be without Aramis Ramirez for a majority, if not all, of the games leading up to the Mid-Summer Classic. The Cubs are 30-30 after 60 games but the next 27 days will have a huge impact on the remainder of the season …

Of the upcoming 23 games, 13 are at Wrigley and of the remaining 27 games leading up to the All-Star break only 10 of those games are on the road … with seven outside of Chicago.

  • June 16 – 18 – White Sox at Wrigley
  • June 19 – 21 – Indians at Wrigley
  • June 22 – Makeup game in Atlanta
  • June 23 – 25 – Tigers in Detroit
  • June 26 – 28 – White Sox at the Cell
  • June 29 – July 1 – Pirates in Pittsburgh
  • July 2 – 5 – Brewers at Wrigley
  • July 6 – 8 – Braves at Wrigley
  • July 9 – Day off
  • July 10 – 12 – Cardinals at Wrigley with a day-night doubleheader on July 12
  • July 13 – 15 – All-Star Break

Of the teams on the Cubs’ upcoming schedule only the Tigers (34-29), the Cardinals (34-30) and the Brewers (35-29) have winning records … and both the Cardinals and Brewers play well on the road. The Cardinals are 15-15 outside of St. Louis while the Brewers are 18-15 on the road, a game better than at Miller Park (17-14).

The White Sox and the Cubs are very similar teams and one can throw the proverbial records out when the two teams square off. The Sox are 30-34 on the year, 14-16 on the road and 16-18 at U.S. Cellular.

Friday will be very interesting to say the least at Wrigley with Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa making their return to the North Side. The Indians (29-37, 13-20 on the road) are like the Cubs and have underachieved this season but DeRosa and Wood will have a more than a chip on their shoulder. DeRosa put on a hitting clinic in Mesa against Ted Lilly in the spring and the two will face off at some point over the weekend. While the Indians’ bullpen is horrible, at least they are scoring runs … and Mark DeRosa leads the team in home runs.

The make-up game in Atlanta will be tough. The Cubs play the Indians on Sunday afternoon, fly to Atlanta for a 6:05pm C.T. first pitch then fly to Detroit to play the Tigers on Tuesday night.

The Tigers figure to be a very difficult match-up for the Cubs, depending on if Dontrelle Willis is still in Jim Leyland’s rotation. The Tigers are 17-11 at home this season but the Cubs should receive a boost from either Jake Fox or Micah Hoffpauir in the lineup for the series. While the Cubs have not officially made the announcement, look for Milton Bradley to be the team’s DH in Detroit and on the South Side. Fox and Hoffpauir can platoon in right and Bradley had a big season a year ago in a designated hitter’s role.

The Cubs swept the three game series on the South Side in 2007 then were swept at the Cell last year. The Sox will have the advantage with Jim Thome back in the lineup and the starting pitchers will determine the series on the South Side at the end of the month. If comes down to the bullpens, the Cubs will be at a big disadvantage.

Following Interleague Play the Cubs travel to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates and there could be a letdown for the first game … similar to what happened to the Cubs following the four-game set in Milwaukee last year. The Pirates are playing decent ball (30-33) and have the same number of wins at home as the Cubs (17-12). The Pirates always play their best against the Cubs and it will be interesting to see if Adam LaRoche and Jack Wilson are still in a Pirates’ uniform on July 1.

Following the game on July 1 in Pittsburgh, the Cubs fly back to Chicago and finish out the first half at home. Some reports are optimistically predicting Aramis Ramirez could be back at some point during the Brewers’ series … but don’t plan on it. Ramirez is still three to four weeks away from returning according to most reports which would put him back just after the break.

The four-game series at Wrigley against the Brewers has “make or break” written all over it, even three weeks out. The Brewers lead the division and could put enough distance between themselves and the Cubs in those four games that no matter what happens for the remainder of the summer the Cubs would not be able to catch them … see the four-game series in Milwaukee at the end of July last year.

After the four-game series at the beginning of July, the Cubs and Brewers face off just seven more times … all in the last three weeks of the year. The Cubs are 2-2 in their first four of the year against the Brewers with 11 left to play.

The 23-game stretch concludes with three against the Braves at Wrigley … and this series will come down to who is starting for the Braves. The Cubs cannot beat Derek Lowe and the backend of the Braves’ bullpen is one of the best in the National League (12-9 in one-run games). The Braves are a .500 team on the road (15-15) and are two under at home. The Cubs must find a way to win three of the final four games against the Braves … and not pitch to Chipper Jones with the game on the line, or throw Jeff Francoeur fastballs.

The final four games leading up to the All-Star break could be another series that books are written about. Following the day-night doubleheader on July 12, the Cubs face the Cardinals only once more this year (a three game series in St. Louis from September 18 – 20). The Cubs have not played well against the Cardinals this season (3-6) and if Tony LaRussa realizes he could provide the knockout blow that weekend then he will do everything he can to try to make the Cubs’ second half just a formality.

If the Cubs can start hitting, and that is a big if after 60 games, then they should be able to hold their own and remain in the race for the next 28 days. But it will take players like Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and Milton Bradley to start producing runs instead of outs.

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe