Series Preview: Chicago Cubs

CHICAGO, IL: Alfonso Soriano #12 of the Chicago Cubs hits a single in the 1st inning against the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

A 2 pm game on a Friday just doesn't feel right. I don't care if that's normal for Cubs' fans, it's weird and unsettling. Now what do I have to look forward to tonight, besides the freedom to do what I feel like with my evening?

The Red Sox and Cubs are both in last place, but that's not the proper way to tell their respective tales. The Red Sox are one game under .500, and tied for fourth with the Blue Jays, just 6-1/2 games out of first place and four out of a playoff spot. The Cubs, on the other hand, are in last place in the kind of way people like to pretend Boston is when they want to tease them for not playing better. They're 21-42, 14-1/2 games back already, 3-7 in their last 10, and outscored by nearly 60 runs on the season.

It's likely that most of the roster will be traded if the rest of the league is in need of any of those spare or useful parts, too, so the second half of the year doesn't look anymore tantalizing than the first, unless you have the Cubs on your schedule, anyway. That being said, this will all lead to something -- the Cubs aren't in the same position Boston was when Theo Epstein took over there, and the process to put them in a position to win is going to take more than a single winter.

Game 1: Ryan Dempster (74 IP, 3.2 K/BB, 173 ERA+) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (5 IP, 8.0 K/BB, 62 ERA+)

Game 2: Jeff Samardzija (72-2/3 IP, 2.9 K/BB, 101 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (80-2/3 IP, 2.5 K/BB, 92 ERA+)

Game 3: Paul Maholm (66 IP, 2.1 K/BB, 82 ERA+) vs. Josh Beckett (78-1/3 IP, 3.3 K/BB, 101 ERA+)

Dempster could be the first Cub to go this summer, especially if he has a solid start against a strong American League East lineup Friday night. He's been excellent in 2012, and even though his ERA is a bit on the undeserved side, there's nothing to complain about when it comes to his 3.27 FIP, either. The .243 batting average on balls in play won't last, but it doesn't have to for him to continue to succeed. He'll face Dice-K, who lasted just five innings in his first start back, but looked dominant for much of it. There was, of course, the one overly-Dice-K inning, because it wouldn't be a Matsuzaka start without a caveat attached.

Jeff Samardzija was converted to the rotation at the last minute, but it's worked out for him better than the bullpen ever did. That's not something you see every day. It will be fun for either Boston or Chicago fans when we find out if Samardzija's new-found limiting of walks holds up against a lineup as patient as that of the Red Sox. Jon Lester has been missing bats and limiting his walks as of late, but he's also been hit often, and hard. Bad luck on balls in play, or living in the strike zone too often? It's something to watch from here on out.

Paul Maholm was lusted after by many a Red Sox fan for his inexpensive averageness, but he hasn't brought that version of himself to the Cubs much yet. He'll take on Beckett, who has a K/BB above his career rate despite the drop in strikeouts in his game.

The Cubs have one of the worst offenses in the game, so this might be a weekend for Red Sox pitching to get things back on track. Not all of the Cubs have avoided their duties at the plate, though: Bryan LaHair is in the midst of a breakout campaign, even if he's slowed a bit lately, and Alfonso Soriano has exploded like it's the first year of his Cubs' deal all over again since overcoming his early-season struggles. That's about it offensively, though -- the club has a combined OPS+ of just 85.

Boston, in its injury-depleted state, is still one of the top lineups in the game. They will be facing a few solid arms, though, but if they can keep it close, things should be in their favor, and they should once again be over .500 come Sunday evening.

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