After a west coast road trip that saw the Chicago Cubs win five out of nine games, the National League Central leaders will return home to Wrigley Field for a key seven game homestand on Monday night.
When they take the field at the Friendly Confines, they will be taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first tilt in a three-game series, and although the Pirates are well behind the Cubs in the division race, there is still plenty of reason for optimism for the squad.
That’s because the Pirates are rolling after winning four consecutive games against the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend. The winning streak, coupled with the recent struggles of the St. Louis Cardinals, have left the Pirates just a half-game back of the second wild card spot in the National League, and even with ace pitcher Gerrit Cole on the shelf with an elbow injury, the team is still lurking as a dangerous threat in the playoff hunt.
After the Cubs get done with the three-game set against the Pirates, they will welcome the San Francisco Giants to Wrigley Field for a four-game weekend set. The Giants, who currently hold the top National League wild card spot, have one of baseball’s best rotations, and although they’re in a dogfight with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West title, they still have the pitching and the offensive punch to put a scare into any team that could face them in the postseason.
The next seven games are far from a make or break proposition for the Cubs, who currently hold a 14 game lead in the Central over the Cardinals, but they will provide yet another opportunity for the team to demonstrate why they’ve been the best team in baseball this season. The Pirates’ hot bats will be a challenge for a Cubs team that is coming off a series loss to the Dodgers, and the Giants’ pitching staff is an ever-present concern for a team that was shut down by a hot staff during last season’s NLCS against the New York Mets.
Fortunately for the Cubs, they do have a few things working in their favor as they enter this key homestand. For starters, they are going into a series against a Pirates team that is dealing with a big injury to their pitching staff, as ace Gerrit Cole is out of the mix following elbow soreness after his last start. The Cubs will also miss Ivan Nova, the new Pirates pitcher that has led them to five straight wins in his starts since he joined the team at the trade deadline.
The Cubs also will be facing a Giants squad that has seen several key starters struggle in recent weeks. Former Cub Jeff Samardzija picked up a win against the Atlanta Braves on Friday, but he has lost four of his last six starts, giving the Cubs hope that they could find a weak spot in his defenses in their Thursday matchup.
Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is also struggling as of late, as he’s won two of his last three decisions but has given up a total of 12 earned runs in 17 innings of work in those games. His ERA has slowly crept up as he’s struggled with his command, and while it still stands at a highly-respectable 2.49, he will need to get his issues sorted out before Saturday’s matchup with the North Siders.
With their magic number currently at 20 in the Central Division, the Cubs could make a serious stride forward in their quest to clinch a playoff berth this week, but more importantly, they have yet another opportunity to serve notice to the rest of baseball that they are a force to be reckoned with in October, and it all starts when Jake Arrieta takes the ball on Monday night.