The Target: Cubs at Giants
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No one’s pushing the panic button when it comes to the Cubs, even though they’ve dropped three of their last four games and five of their last eight.
When a team goes 1-for-24 with runners in scoring position, as the Cubs did in Milwaukee, it’s bound to lose a series. Over their last four games, the Cubs are 1-for-30 in RISP situations — maybe that’s all this bump in the road is about.
But now comes a visit to the home of the hottest team in baseball. The Giants have won eight in a row and have the most victories in the majors — 13 — in May. The Giants just ripped through a 7-0 road trip to Arizona and San Diego.
Is May the month when the Cubs fall back toward the N.L. pack?
Friday: Jake Arrieta (7-0, 1.29) vs. Jake Peavy (1-4, 7.43), 9:15 p.m., Ch. 9.
Saturday: Jon Lester (4-2, 3.54) vs. Matt Cain (4-3, 3.51), 6:15 p.m., Fox-32.
Sunday: Kyle Hendricks (2-3, 3.51) vs. Madison Bumgarner (5-2, 2.45), 7:05 p.m., ESPN.
Huge advantage to Arrieta, right? The Cubs have won his last 21 starts. Arrieta has allowed three runs or fewer in his last 28 starts — the longest streak since the pitching rubber was set at 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893. (Thank you, Elias.)
Just remember: Peavy has the best career ERA against the Cubs (2.81) of any active starting pitcher in baseball.
The Cubs lead the majors in starting pitcher ERA, but the Giants’ starters have a miniscule 1.67 ERA over their last 13 outings.
Like the Cubs, who lead the majors with 197 bases on balls, the Giants are very good at extending counts and making opposing pitchers work hard for their money. First baseman Brandon Belt has been better than ever in this area for a team that ranks fourth in baseball with 168 walks.
Underrated shortstop Brandon Crawford is delivering clutch RBIs and slinging a mean glove. Right fielder Hunter Pence has been hot. This team looks well-equipped to remain atop the N.L. West for a while.
On: Jon Lester. Only twice in eight starts this season has he allowed more than one run (and both times he did, he earned victories anyway). Lester is 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA in three career starts against the Giants.
Off: Javy Baez. He’s hitless in his last six games — and that at-bat in the ninth inning of Thursday’s defeat at Milwaukee was inexcusably bad.
On: Sack-packers. The Cubs have had an MLB-high 62 plate appearances — and are hitting a robust .370 — with the bases loaded.
Off: Hendricks. Sunday’s starter has a 2.28 ERA at Wrigley Field, but the number is more than double that — 5.19 — on the road. That’s not going to get it done opposite Bumgarner.
On: Road show. The Cubs still haven’t lost consecutive away games all season. All it’ll take is Arrieta being Arrieta to keep that train moving.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg