The Cubs head to New York to close out the first half of the season against the Mets. Can they stay hot and win another series before the break? The Mets have been on a hot streak of their own, so anything is possible.  Here’s what to look for.

Probable Pitchers

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Friday at 7:10pm ET – Travis Wood vs. Johan Santana

Wood has won his past three starts and has not given up a run in 18 2/3 innings, the longest stretch by a Cubs lefty since Ted Lilly had a 19-inning scoreless streak Sept. 10-20, 2008. Wood also has not given up a home run in 28 1/3 innings. The Mets considered skipping Santana’s final start before the All-Star break, resting his surgically repaired shoulder. But with Santana coming off eight shutout innings in L.A. and feeling strong, he will wrap up his first half vs. the Cubs.

Saturday at 4:10pm ET – Jeff Samardzija vs. Dillon Gee

In his last start, Samardzija found his split-finger pitch, and the result was a career-high 11 strikeouts against the Braves. He gave up four hits over seven innings for the win, which helped to erase a dismal 0-4 June. Defensive errors, more than his own mistakes, cost Gee in Sunday’s loss to the Dodgers. He still pitched around them to record a quality start, saying he felt much better than he did in his prior outing vs. the Cubs, who knocked Gee out after five.

Sunday at 1:10pm ET – Chris Volstad vs. Jon Niese

Volstad has not won in 20 starts, and will try to get that elusive “W” in the final game of the first half. If he did, it would be two days shy of the one-year anniversary of his last win, which was July 10, 2011. Niese allowed just one run against the Phillies Tuesday — a second inning homer to Carlos Ruiz — and made his third straight quality start. In his last three starts, he is 3-0 and has combined to allow just four earned runs over 21 1/3 innings.

Our Take

by Jeremiah Johnson

I probably ought to be pretty amped up about the quality baseball the Cubs have been playing of late, and I am. I’m thrilled to see them hitting with runners on, not giving up when they surrender the lead, and the improvement of our starters and some of our relievers. It seems like the team is finally coming together under Dale.

But I’m still pretty bummed about Matt Garza’s start last night. Whether he’s going to be trade bait or a building block for our rotation, he needs to start showing some consistency. I know it was 97 degrees on the field when the game started, and that the humidity in Atlanta last night was probably unbearable–under conditions like that I’m not worth anything, either. But this wasn’t an isolated event. He hasn’t been the same since his two-week bout with the flu earlier this year. As much as anyone on the team, I think Garza needs the break to get things back in gear and give the Cubs a strong second half–or at least a strong bargaining chip.

I’m looking forward to the Wood/Santana matchup tonight (this afternoon for me). And I’d like to see Samardzija build on the success of his last start. Sunday seems ticketed for an automatic loss, what with Volstad taking the mound–am I the only one who thought he was actually going to pull off a solid start on Tuesday? It’s about to be a year since his last win. For his sake and ours, I’m hoping he can break his streak of futility this weekend. UPDATE: It turns out Dempster might return to save us from Volstad’s infamous One Bad Inning©. I already feel better about the weekend.


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