The Chicago Cubs are one of the hottest teams in Major League Baseball, but they will run into a stern challenge when they head eight miles south to take on the Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field this weekend.
The Cubs, who are fresh off of a perfect 7-0 homestand that vaulted them into firm control of their playoff destiny, are looking to keep up their excellent play of late, but the White Sox will provide them with a tough test. The Sox took two out of three games earlier this season when the two teams tangled at Wrigley Field, with their starting pitching and clutch offensive production from players like Tyler Saldino propelling them to the series win on the north side.
This time around, the Cubs are facing a couple of unfavorable pitching matchups, but they are also finding their groove offensively. Jon Lester has pitched himself back into the conversation as one of the league’s best hurlers, but he will not toe the rubber for the Cubs in this series, and neither will Jason Hammel. The Cubs will have Jake Arrieta on the mound for Saturday’s game, but they will have to run out their fourth and fifth starters over the weekend as Kyle Hendricks (Friday) and Dan Haren (Sunday) take their turns.
As for the White Sox, they will have their three best pitchers going against the Cubs. Jeff Samardzija will look to make a big statement against his former team when he takes the hill for Friday’s opener, and he’ll be followed up by a pair of left-handed hurlers as Jose Quintana and Chris Sale finish out the weekend on the south side.
Despite those tough matchups for the Cubs, their offense has reason for optimism. Lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler has been hitting the cover off the ball recently, and he had a tremendous day at the plate on Thursday as he reached base four times in a victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Batting behind him is rookie sensation Kyle Schwarber, who went deep twice in Thursday’s win and has been one of the reasons the offense has gotten so red hot in recent weeks.
The Cubs’ other hitters are also thriving, with players like Jorge Soler hitting over .300 for the month of August and Kris Bryant currently working on a 10 game hitting streak, his third double-digit streak of the season.
Even better for the Cubs, they are getting healthy at the right time of the season. Miguel Montero recently returned from an injury that sidelined him for a good chunk of July, and he came back onto the scene in a big way with a walk-off home run to beat the Brewers on Wednesday night. His return to the lineup has enabled Joe Maddon to keep Schwarber in the lineup as a left fielder instead of exclusively behind the plate, and the results have spoken for themselves as the Cubs have scored nearly six runs per game when the rookie is in the lineup.
Despite those positives, the team knows that they will be in for a tough ride against the Sox. The team has been incredibly streaky recently, with a tough road trip that saw them get swept by the Kansas City Royals being followed up by a great home sweep of the Los Angeles Angels to kick off this week.
Even with their struggles, the White Sox still remain within shouting distance of a wild card berth, sitting five games back of the Angels for the final playoff spot. Their road to the playoffs is littered with challenges, including the task of climbing over five different teams to get into the postseason, but with an offense that has players like Jose Abreu, it’s impossible to rule them out just yet.
The series will get started on Friday afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 p.m at U.S. Cellular Field.