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Series Preview/Discussion: Cubs at Phillies, Aug. 2-4

Aug. 2, 7:05pm: Cubs 2, Phillies 1 WP: C. Zambrano (8-4) LP: V. Padilla (5-10)
Aug. 3, 7:05pm: Cubs 3, Phillies 4 WP: B. Wagner (4-1) LP: M. Remlinger (0-2)
Aug. 4, 1:05pm: Cubs 4, Phillies 6 WP: Brett Myers (10-5) LP: M. Prior (7-4)

Recent History/Overview

Back in May, the Phils took two of three from the Cubs at the Friendly Confines, winning the opener in dramatic fashion on a wild play involving three guys who are now wearing other uniforms. With the bases loaded and one out, Chicago closer LaTroy Hawkins (since traded to the Giants) caught a liner from Placido Polanco (now a Detroit Tiger), then fired toward first where Jose Offerman (who would soon be released by the Phils and picked up by the Mets) was off the bag. But Hawkins' throw bounced off Offerman's helmet, landing in the stands as two runs scored to give the Phils their 3-2 victory. Jon Millw--um, Lieber dominated the next day in a 4-1 Phils win, but Carlos Zambrano pitched a complete-game gem to outduel Brett Myers in the series finale, 2-1, and break a seven-game Cubs losing streak. The two teams split their six-game series in 2004.

Since meeting earlier this year, both teams have lifted themselves into the wild-card race while frustrating fans with their consistent inconsistency. Between June 25 and July 15, Chicago ran off a four-game winning streak, an eight-game losing streak, a stretch of eight wins in nine games, a three-game losing streak, and a three-game winning streak. Injuries have taken a major toll, as SS Nomar Garciaparra has been out since April and Kerry Wood has thrown just 54 innings this season. But Dusty Baker's odd roster usage probably hasn't helped, either: Neifi Perez and his .661 OPS has sucked up 388 at-bats despite doing little of anything since April. And with Corey Patterson's flameout earlier this year--he was banished to the minors last month after posting a .649 OPS--the Cubs have struggled to identify a leadoff hitter.

Chicago has the second-best road record in the NL at 26-26. The Phillies are 33-22 at home in 2005. After getting swept last week in Houston, the Phils are 14-12 for the year against NL Central opponents; the Cubs have gone 8-14 versus NL East clubs this year.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Perhaps more than any other playoff contender in either league, the Cubs are sustained offensively by two batters: 1b Derrek Lee and 3b Aramis Ramirez. Both all-stars, the two have combined for 59 of the Cubs' team 135 home runs (second-most in the league) and 141 of 479 runs scored. Lee is batting .360 for the season, Ramirez .309. 2b Todd Walker is a nice supplemental bat, as are outfielders Jeromy Burnitz and newly acquired Matt Lawton, but the infield cornermen are clearly the cornerstones of the Cubs attack. Powered by those two, the Cubs have an impressive team OPS of .781, second-best in the league. That figured is heavily weighted toward slugging, however: the Cubs' OBP of .328 is 11th out of the 16 NL teams.  

Pitching-wise, Chicago's rotation might rank just below the ace-laden Astros and Cardinals as the best in the NL, if not all baseball. Zambrano, Mark Prior, the currently injured Wood and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux all have ace credentials; Jerome Williams, whom the Cubs acquired for Hawkins earlier this year, has great stuff as well. Chicago leads the NL in strikeouts with 806 and boasts an impressive .251 opponents' batting average. Ryan Dempster, who took over the closer role after Hawkins lost the job, has converted 14 saves despite allowing a high 1.5 baserunners per inning.

Cubs Starters
C Michael Barrett
1B Derrek Lee
2B Todd Walker
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Neifi Perez
LF Matt Lawton
CF Jerry Hairston Jr.
RF Jeromy Burnitz