The 1st 4 games of the 2nd half of the 2009 MLB schedule should tell-all for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are 43-43 and are within striking distance of the 1st place St. Louis Cardinals whom they do not play again until September. What better way to open up the 2nd half than to play 4 games against the worst team in baseball – the Washington Nationals. Although the games are on the road where the Cubs have struggled (the Cubs are 27-18 at Wrigley Field, but just 16-25 away from home), the Nats have won only 26 total games in 2009 and are 10 games under .500 at home at Nationals Park.
If the Cubs are going to show that they are capable of making a run at a 3rd straight NL Central crown, they need to show it by sweeping the Nationals during the long weekend series. The Cards host the Arizona Diamondbacks (who have been playing better) in a 3-game weekend set in St. Louis, while the 2nd place Brewers are on the road at the Reds in Cincinnati, so there could be room to make up some ground if they can win all 4 (or at least 3) games in DC.
Rich Harden has a lot to prove in the Thursday night opener against John Lannan (6-6; 3.70 ERA). Since coming off the disabled list on June 13th, Harden has a 1-4 record and has lasted more than 6 innings only once. Even in his lone win over the Pirates in Pittsburgh, Harden gave up 9 hits and 1 walk and was constantly working in and out of jams. He has given up at least 7 hits in each of his last 3 starts, so hopefully the extra time off over the All-Star Break will give him an extra burst of energy to take out on the lowly Nats.
The rest of the series shapes up like this:
Friday night – Carlos Zambrano (5-4; 3.53 ERA) v. Seth Olsen (2-4; 6.03 ERA)
Saturday night – All-Star Ted Lilly (9-6; 3.18 ERA) v. Jordan Zimmerman (3-4; 4.50 ERA)
Sunday afternoon – Randy Wells (4-4; 2.72 ERA) v. Garrett Mock (0-2; 6.92 ERA)
Ryan Dempster will be on the disabled list for a few more weeks, so it is still unclear who Manager Lou Pinella will tap to be the Cubs 5th starter until Dempster’s return.
Looking at the numbers, the Cubs better win at least 3 of the 4 games against the Nats. Keep your fingers crossed – things have not gone the Cubs way in 2009 and we don’t expect things to change simply because the Cubs are playing the worst team in baseball..