7:10 PM EST, ESPN – Money Line: Cubs -170, Run Line: 9
The Windy City takes the stage tonight as the Cubs and White Sox entertain the city of Chicago in the second installment of an interleague four-game, home-and-home series. Things got kicked off at U.S. Cellular Field in exciting fashion as the first-place Cubs (59-39, 1st in NL Central) very nearly dug themselves out of an early 4-0 hole. Trailing in Seventh Inning, Second Baseman Javier Baez cut the lead in half with a two-run homer off of Miguel Gonzalez (2-5, 4.28 ERA), followed by a pair of RBI singles in the Ninth, courtesy of Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo off of White Sox Reliever Matt Albers. However, with two outs left in the Bottom of the Ninth, the rally fell apart, as Cubs reliever Mike Montgomery (2.60 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) relinquished a walk-off single up the middle of the diamond to Tyler Saladino, driving home J.B. Shuck for the victory. Though they were able to scrape back into the contest on the strength of their Lineup, it was another poor day at the office for one Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.76 ERA), who was tagged for four runs on five hits, including a home run, in six innings of labor. However, it appears that relief is on the way, in the form of former Yakees’ Closer Aroldis Chapman, whom Chicago acquired via trade early Tuesday Morning. Though he comes with a certain amount of baggage, there is no question that the Lefthanded hurler augments Maddon’s Bullpen immensely; the 28-year old Cuban was a bright light in an otherwise dour season for the Bronx Bombers, posting a 2.01 ERA, with twenty saves and a stellar 0.889 WHIP. While it remains to be seen if Management did indeed give up too much for the Closer, there is no doubt that this is the kind of move that serves as a statement of intent: the Cubs are very serious about hoisting their first World Series title since 1908. Taking the mound tonight for the Cubbies is Kyle Kendricks (9-6, 2.27 ERA), who is riding quite a wave of momentum, achieving victory in five out of his past seven starts, without losing since June 13th. In fact, in July alone, one could argue that he has been the most effective pitcher in Maddon’s rotation, which is saying quite a bit considering the presence of teammates Jon Lester and the aforementioned Arrieta. The 26-yaer old Righthander is undefeated in four starts, allowing a scant one run (not earned) on fourteen hits over the course of 19.2 innings of labor, while logging thirteen strikeouts opposed to five walks. He’s also registered a 0.97 WHIP over that time to boot. In comparison to his more heralded compatriots, the Dartmouth graduate leads the rotation in ERA (2.27) and WHIP (1.036) despite a relative lack of speed on his fastball. However, his command has been excellent, for he has issued the fewest walks over nine innings in the clubhouse (2.4). The third-year hurler continued to impress in his last outing, which was a 6-2 triumph over the New York Mets; Kendricks held the reigning National League Champions scoreless over 6.1 innings of work, permitting seven hits, with seven strikeouts and one walk. Of course, it helps having the National League’s most explosive offense to lean on, as the Cubs have been lighting up the scoreboard all season; Chicago ranks third in the league in Runs Scored (494) and Doubles (178), fourth in Home Runs (124) and Slugging Percentage (.430), and first overall in Bases on Balls (405) and On-Base Percentage (.346).
Meanwhile, this season of peaks and valleys continues for the White Sox (49-50, 3rd in AL Central), who after dropping three consecutive games, have now strung together a trifecta of victories. Indeed, Robin Ventura’s charges have developed a flare for the dramatic of late, winning each of their last three outings in walk-off fashion. In fact, it’s the first time since 1962 that Chicago had secured a win in their final at-bat. However, up until the Ninth Inning of Monday’s 5-4 victory over the Cubs, it didn’t appear that they’d have to. Rightfielder Adam Eaton got things started with an RBI single in the Third Inning off of Arrieta, while Third Baseman Todd Frazier pelted his twenty-ninth homer of the campaign three innings later, to stretch the lead to a commanding 4-0. However, once the aforementioned Gonzalez checked out after a solid 6.2 innings of service, the Bullpen began to struggle. Zach Duke (2.70 ERA, .125 WHIP) finished the Seventh, but the aforementioned Albers proceeded to self destruct in the Ninth, relinquishing a pair of runs on three hits in 1.1 innings of work. Fortunately, Dan Jennings cleaned up the mess in before the Cubs could take the lead, retiring both betters he faced. The rest was simply deja vu, as Saladino drove a bouncing single up the middle into Centerfield, allowing Shuck to franticly race home for the win. In many ways, that contest served as a microcosm for their season, as they have simply been all over the place over the past four months. While his young counterpart has gotten better and better with more experience, tonight’s starter James Shields (4-12, 4.99 ERA), is clearly looking like he has lost his edge. After being acquired from the San Diego Padres back in early June, the pitcher formerly known as Big Game James, has hardly proved worthy of his moniker in his return to the American League. Since joining the White Sox, the veteran has gone just 2-5 in nine starts, and has since gone winless in three straight starts. However, it all hasn’t been his fault, for it’s not like he’s been the recipient of any run support over that period time; Chicago has scored a total of one run in those three games, despite the vet channeling his younger self with a 2.28 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP, which are actually pretty comparable to Kendricks’. He’s also manufactured five straight starts in which he’s lasted six or more innings while yielding two ore fewer runs. In his last start, a 2-1 loss to the Tigers, the Righty went six innings in which he struck out four and walked one, despite relinquishing a pair of homers in the rain-shortened affair, With that said, it remains unlikely that he’ll be able to sustain this level of play; Shields’ numbers have largely bloated since departing from San Diego, for his ERA (6.00), WHIP (1.625), Hits per Nine Innings (10.7), Home Runs per Nine Innings (2.1), and Walks per Nine Innings (3.9) have increased dramatically, with some representing career-worsts. Furthermore, his Strikeouts per Nine Innings (4.5) and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (1.14) represent career-lows.