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After a rough seven-game stretch (2-5) on the road, the Cubs can settle in at home this week against below average teams from the AL Central and the NL East. Then one of the hottest teams in the National League, the Atlanta Braves, heads this way a week from Monday.
There is every reason to believe better times are ahead.
The Cubs learned against the Dodgers over the weekend that most of their starting pitching isn't quite good enough against a good lineup and their hitting definitely isn't good enough against strong pitching. Then again, the squad avoided disaster with the victory on Saturday, what with Yu Darvish finally throwing the sort of gem (seven innings, one earned run, 10 strikeouts) for which the Cubs are paying $126 million.
And Anthony Rizzo's game-saving, ninth-inning two-run blast off Kenley Jansen might have been the Cubs' biggest hit of the year.
Fortunately, while the Cubs (39-32) were scuffling along, the Brewers weren't doing any better. Milwaukee led the division by only half a game after posting another loss Monday night, with both teams tied in the loss column.
First up for the Cubs are the White Sox, who are only two games under .500 despite a run differential of negative-57(!). What's that you say? I should have led this thing with the latest analysis of this year's exciting edition of the "Crosstown Classic?"
Let me know when White Sox management starts trying to win again. Then a preview will be more than a passing glance.
While these two games and the return engagement at G↓Rate are probably the last big games of the year for the Sox, they are a tiny blip on the schedule for the home team. Several players have showed some promise for the South Siders this year (although Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada have both slowed after strong starts) but the only one who really matters is Lucas Giolito.
And Giolito's excellence (10-1 and in contention to start the All-Star Game) is the latest, greatest example of the amazing difference an ace starter can make for a team, especially a young team.
It is hard to imagine the Sox wouldn't have suffered at least several sizable losing streaks already this season if Giolito hadn't suddenly discovered Cy Young form and become the guy who stops such streaks before they start. It has been remarkable to watch.
As for the Mets, they have lost two in a row and six of their last 10. As the Braves have stepped up in the last few weeks and taken command of the division (a three-game lead over the Phillies), the Mets have fallen back to 34-38.
Unless they can put together a win streak, the only big news for the forever second fiddle in the Big Apple for the rest of the season will be how much of their talent will they sell off and how quickly.
Then the aforementioned Braves arrive for four games. Perhaps by then they will have cooled off a bit. The Cubs can only hope. Atlanta has won 10 of its last 11 games as it has raced to the top of not only the the NL East but also the National League at large (at least the portion of the league located east of Los Angeles).
Freddie Freeman is having another possible MVP season (.313/.404/.592) and he and Ronald Acuna, Jr. have been on fire of late. And look out for Braves ace Mike Soroka, who has taken a huge step up with an 8-1 record this year to go with his 2.12 ERA.
Hopefully the Cubs will load up on wins this week before they face an actual test six days down the line.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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