The Cubs return home today to face off against the Dodgers and Matt Kemp.  With changes coming in the bullpen and the offense starting to gel, this will be one of the biggest tests so far this season for our beloved Cubs.   Check out the pitching matchups and scouting reports for the series, and some thoughts from a Dodger blogger with deep Cubs roots.

UPDATE: It’s official–Carlos Marmol is out as the closer.  For now the duties will be split between James Russell and Rafael Dolis.

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS

Friday at 1:20pm CT – Chad Billingsley vs. Paul Maholm

Billingsley has had an up-and-down start to the season.  He pitched one game into the ninth inning, but a few starts later he couldn’t make it out of the fourth.  He doesn’t walk a ton of batters, so making early contact and getting runners on will be key (although, when isn’t that key?).  Maholm’s been even more schizophrenic–after starting the season 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA, he’s looked pretty good his last two starts.  He’s had a week’s worth of rest, so let’s hope he doesn’t need to shake any rust off against the Dodgers lineup.

Saturday at 12:05pm CT – Chris Capuano vs. Matt Garza

Capuano has three wins so far, but he hasn’t pitched deep into any of his starts.  However, he throws a lot of pitches for only about six or so innings of work.  We know patience doesn’t come naturally to this Cubs team, but it could help us get into the bullpen early on Saturday.  In his last start, Garza one-hit the Phillies through seven innings.  I have very little doubts about how he’ll perform whenever he takes the mound (who was the last Cubs’ pitcher we could say that about?), so long as he doesn’t have to throw over to first in earnest.  My concerns are about the eight other guys out there with him, and if they can give him any kind of offensive or defensive support.

Sunday at 1:20pm CT – Aaron Harang vs. Chris Volstad

Remember when Harang was the Reds’ ace?  Seems like a long time ago.  He probably feels that way too–so far this season, he’s 1-2 with a 5.72 ERA.  The Dodgers have lost three of the five games he’s started, and he’s labored in all of them.  Missing Clayton Kershaw is a big relief–facing Harang might be an even bigger advantage.  And Volstad will need all the help he can get to pick up his first win since July 10th.  With Volstad it’s all about the one bad inning, and this is a Dodger lineup that will most certainly take advantage of any missteps.  Let’s hope he can keep it together and keep the Cubs in the game, even if he has to wait a little longer for that elusive W.

NOTES FROM THE ENEMY

Courtesy of Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts

No series will find me rooting against the Dodgers, but games against the Cubs provide me the greatest solace if my team loses. That’s thanks to my father, a Chicago native who attended the Cubs’ last World Series in 1945 and has been determined ever since to go to another. By the same token, the Dodgers’ National League Division Series sweep of the Cubs in 2008, while providing me great joy, also contained a bittersweet element.

So you’ll get no trash-talking from me as the Dodgers head to Chicago, even with the two teams seemingly moving in different directions – the Dodgers atop the NL standings with a 17-8 record, the Cubs trying to avoid getting buried deeper in the basement of the NL Central.

Further, given what’s transpired in the past couple of years in Los Angeles and the ownership nightmare we’re just now emerging from, there’s much more humility than hubris in this town — a feeling augmented by how thin the Dodger roster remains behind the otherworldly Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

It should be noted that those two guys aren’t doing it alone.  Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly are off to good starts, while underrated catcher A.J. Ellis (.449 on-base percentage, .916 OPS) has been every bit the revelation I’ve long hoped he would be if only given the chance.

Hopes are high for Dee Gordon at shortstop, but for the time being the batting skills aren’t there. Meanwhile, the team has two serious problem spots at left field and third base, where the two Juans, Rivera and Uribe, have matching .629 OPSes. Jerry Hairston Jr. (.752 OPS) has been helping out both offensively and defensively, but at age 36, he’s not expected to play one position every day, let alone two.

The bullpen, too, has been having a bit of a rough time of it. The relievers have an ERA of 4.38 and have allowed 43 percent of inherited runners to score. Five of the team’s eight losses have come from the bullpen in the ninth or 10th innings.

Dodger fans, most of them fearful that the team would be 8-17 instead of 17-8, could not be much happier with how the first month of the year has gone: first place, new ownership, Kemp hitting out of his mind. But with these Dodgers, there’s always a feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop – a feeling, I gather from my dad, that Cub fans know all too well.

 

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