Chicago Cubs Face Two Wild Card Contenders In Crucial Week

Finally tied with San Francisco for the second wild card spot, the Chicago Cubs will look to extend their winning streak to six games when they begin their pivotal week in Pittsburgh on Monday. After experiencing an unexpected sweep by a streaking Phillies team, taking two of three from Colorado and sweeping the offensively challenged Brewers, Chicago will test their rookies in what should be an exciting three game set in Pittsburgh before returning home to entertain the Giants for four games.

All three clubs have excellent pitching staffs, although Chicago Cubs execs balked on adding available closers during the trade deadline madness. Pittsburgh, with Mark Melancon, and San Francisco, with Santiago Casilla, have formidable 9th inning closers who are proven weapons. Chicago relies on whomever Joe Maddon pulls from the pen, normally Hector Rondon or Joe Motte, both who’ve contributed to 15 blown saves by Cubs closers.

The Cubs should catch somewhat of a lucky break as they’ll miss two of MLB’s young guns: Madison Bumgarner is slated to pitch 8/5 against Atlanta, and Gerrit Cole pitches 8/7 against Los Angeles Dodgers. With A.J. Burnett undergoing an MRI, Chicago won’t face him either, leaving Liriano, Locke, and recently acquired J.A. Happ to slow Chicago’s rookie bats. San Francisco will put Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Mike Leake, and Chris Heston — Heston never facing the Cubs — up against Chicago’s offense during their four game series.

Although Chicago has taken 6 of 10 from Pittsburgh this year, many of those games were during several key players’ injury leave. After bolstering their lineup with Aramis Ramirez and adding bullpen strength with Joakim Soria, the series against the Pirates, who are 35-17 at home, won’t be easy. The Cubs haven’t seen San Francisco (27-24 on the road) this year, but are 164-166 against them since 1980.

Experts didn’t predict Chicago would still be playing competitive baseball, given their youth and often shaking rotation. Boasting the 6th best ERA in baseball, starting pitchers have clamped down since June 1 and continue to impress Maddon. Should Chicago make any August trades, more than likely bats will be sought after instead of pitching since Tommy Hunter and Dan Haren have been added to boost the rotation. Haren is slated to make his Chicago Cubs debut 8/5 against Pittsburgh, and has fared well against the current Pirates lineup (.208 average, 3 HR allowed).

The road doesn’t get easier for the Cubs, with Detroit, L.A. Dodgers, and crosstown rivals White Sox on their August schedule. After this week, the Cubs face San Francisco three more times and Pittsburgh six. Should the Chicago Cubs hope to play deep into October, it’s time to get serious and play good all-around baseball against two of MLB’s solidest clubs.

[Photo by Mike McGinnis / Getty Images]