Sitting 3.5 games behind of the Brewers in the standings, the Cubs look to pick up some ground in the NL Central race before the All Star Break hits and, more importantly, get back their star slugger Aramis Ramirez.
Until the third base slugger comes back on Monday, the day after the Brewers series ends, it looks as though the Cubs’ offensive struggles will continue.
The Cubs will enter the series batting .244 as a team, ranking 28th in all of the the major leagues. Ryan Theriot leads the team with a .286 batting average on a team that has wavered in consistency all year.
Despite one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball in terms of ERA this year, the Cubs still sport a record under .500 at 37-38.
When trying to break down the team’s issue, all problems seem to lead back to leadoff man Alfonso Soriano. With a batting average of .230 and an on-base percentage under .300, his stats are less than stellar for the top spot in the batting order.
While he has only had eight at-bats away from the leadoff spot (1-8 as the three hitter), his struggles at the plate warrant a drop in the order that everyone but manager Lou Piniella seems to agree with.
Milton Bradley and Kosuke Fukudome are probably the most expensive .239 and .260 hitters in all of baseball but are heading in directions as we enter the month of July.
Fukudome, who ended April with a .338 average, has seen his average dip almost 80 points, including a .169 average in July.
For what it’s worth, Bradley hit .273 in June but still has less RBI (17) than Bill Hall, Casey McGehee, and Jason Kendall. To put his year in perspective, Aramis Ramirez had 16 RBI in his first 18 games before injuring himself.
As a team, the Cubs are batting .216 with runners in scoring position, which is easily dead last in the MLB, also ranking just 23rd in at bats with RISP.
For a team that has been struck out 580 times this year, the Cubs also have the worst batting average in the league when behind in the count (.173).
The woes of the offense have been exposed this year and because of financial restrictions, benching or sending down everyday players just isn’t an option.
Players like Micah Hauffpauir and Jake Fox have seemed inconsistent at bats because of it and their progress has been flawed as a result.
For as much as the North Siders have struggled on offense, the Brewers’ starting pitching has been almost as bad. When C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets bolted for free agency, the one unit that needed to step up was the starters.
Yovani Gallardo’s time has arrived and can now be considered the ace of the staff as he sports an 8-5 record with a 2.75 ERA, 114 strikeouts, and a .193 BAA.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, Gallardo will not face the Cubs after going up against the Mets on Wednesday.
On the year, Brewers starting pitching ranks 25th in all of baseball with a 4.88 ERA and has walked 183 batters, fourth most in the majors.
After a stellar month of April and half of May that saw the starters lead the league , Manny Parra has been sent down, Dave Bush is now on the DL and the pitching is in shambles.
Seth McClung, set to pitch the opener of the series, will make his second start since coming out of the bullpen to take Bush’s place in the rotation.
McClung was on a 75-80 pitch count in his first start this year (he ended up throwing 77 in four innings) as he works to stretch his arm out as a starter.
He has been one of the better pitchers in the bullpen this year, but questions arise whether moving him to the rotation will throw off his rhythm.
He will make his first career start against the Cubs, where as a reliever he is 1-0 with a 2.55 ERA in 10 appearances against Chicago.
While McClung has not contributed to the starting rotation’s poor stats this year, Braden Looper sure has. Looper has been extremely inconsistent this year but has found himself pitching well against poor offensive teams.
However, Looper has struggled mightily on the road with a 2-3 record and a 6.67 ERA, compared to a 4-1 record and 4.03 ERA at Miller Park.
In his first start of the year, Looper pitched five innings of one-run ball against the Cubs in a game the Brewers would win 4-3.
It will be evident very early, which Looper Brewers’ fans are going to see and with a 6.06 ERA in June it might not be the one they want to see.
Jeff Suppan showed signs of a turnaround early in June with four straight starts pitching five or more innings and giving up less than three runs.
However, his last three starts have been just as bad, giving up 12 runs in 16.2 innings, going 0-2. One thing going for the Brewers is that Suppan is 4-1 away from Miller Park, but is 0-2 against the Cubbies this year with a 7.45 ERA.
The Brewers are really counting on Suppan to turn things around as a second workhorse will be necessary when August and September come upon us.
The struggles for each team will collide tomorrow and something is going to give for one of them. The Brewers will look for more consistency from their pitching while the Cubs continue to try to get on the right track from the plate.
Odds say the Brewers’ pitching is more likely to come around because it has been there.Aramis Ramirez will be a huge lift for the Cubs’ lineup, but until he comes back it will be more of the same in Wrigley.
However, if there was a series for the North Siders to get back on track, this would be it.