As we approach the all-star break and the Cubs sit one game below .500, I cannot help but feel pretty good about where the team stands. Seriously, despite how things look in the win/loss columns, the fact of the matter is that the Cubs are in a pretty good position to enter the break within striking distance of Milwaukee. A series win versus Milwaukee and a successful road trip versus two teams that the Cubs should beat up on, could result in the Cubs being 45-42. Hopefully within 5 games of the Brewers come July 10th. Mark my words. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself.

All of this week’s excitement has been great, but now the real build up starts. Don’t get me wrong, the last seven days have been a wild ride for the Cubs and their fans. The Sox sweep was a much needed confidence boost, and the “The Comeback” was a terrific momentum builder. While the Cubs fought their way back into that game, I think we know that we all owe a large “Domo Arigato” to Kaz Matsui. Yet in the grand scheme of things, it is the upcoming weekend that now looks bigger than ever. So let’s take a little peek ahead.

The probable pitchers look to be:
Friday: Yovani Gallardo, RHP (1-0, 2.70) vs. Rich Hill, LHP (5-5, 3.13)
Saturday: Ben Sheets, RHP (9-3, 3.09) vs. Sean Marshall, LHP (4-2, 2.44)
Sunday: Dave Bush (6-6, 5.06) vs. Jason Marquis, RHP (5-4, 3.46)

The Cubs are 5-4 versus the Brewers this year, 4-2 in Milwaukee and 1-2 at home. Overall we have outscored them 51-41.

The importance of this weekends games cannot be overstated. After this series, the oppurtunities to take head-to-head games versus the Brewers comes down to one more 3 game set in late August. There may not be a better time for the Cubs to be hot. Yet the Brewers are pretty warm themselves. They come in off of a sweep of Houston and winning 13 of their last 15. Buckle up folks, this should be a great series to watch.

Back to the Brewers pitching. While the Cubs have enjoyed a reasonable amount of success against Dave Bush and Ben Sheets this year, and in the past, they have never seen Gallardo. Gallardo is billed as a “rookie phenom”, and games versus new pitchers are always tough. I visited a few different baseball sites to try and get the book on Gallardo. I pooled and condensed what I read, and here it is.

Gallardo was called up June 14 to replace Cris Capuano after Capuano went on the 15 day DL. Gallardo was drafted by the Brewers out of high school and has enjoyed a fast rise through High A and AA thanks to a combined 188 Ks last season. This year Gallardo has been having a pretty good year, already amassing 110 Ks in 77 2/3 for AAA Nashville. Gallardo supposedly has 3 very good pitches. A mid 90’s fastball, high 80’s slider, and a very good curveball that has been called the best in all of AAA baseball. He also has a developing change up but supposedly lives on steady use of his fastball and curve. Scouts say that he is very mature in his approach and uses all of his pitches to set up hitters. They also say that he uses drastic changes in speed and various arm slots to keep hitters off balance. His first major league start was a win versus SF, although his numbers were a little less than phenomenal. In 6 1/3 he gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and struck out 4. He was charged with 3 earned runs and gave up 1 solo HR. Gallardo’s second outing was a little more impressive. In 7 innings of work versus the Royals, Gallardo gave up 5 hits, 2 walks, and struck out 8. He gave up one earned run. The jury is still out on whether to call him a power pitcher or a finesse guy. Apparently he has the ability to us both approaches. A lot of sites did mention the fact that he is a fly ball pitcher and can be beat up with the long ball.

Looking over the Brewers last month of games, it is obvious that the name of the game for them is run support. Their pitching gives up plenty of runs, but their powerful hitting usually compensates. So really the key to this series has to be the Cubs pitching. The starters continue to do a pretty good job, but the Cubs bullpen is a mess and the Rockies series showed just how vulnerable ANY lead can be going into the late innings. That will have to change for the Cubs to have any success against the Brew Crew. I guess we will find out tomorrow if this day off has helped the bullpen get some rest. If the Cubs hot hitting continues. If Jacques Jones remains a Cub. Most importantly, if “Big Mo” is still hanging around Wrigley. I can hardly wait!

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