The Target: Dodgers at Cubs
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The Cubs won 97 games last season, tied for the franchise high since baseball went to a 162-game schedule in 1962, but they didn’t get to 20 games over .500 until their 122nd game. And if you think four “games” in one sentence is a lot, you couldn’t be more right.
Even more amazing than that feat of bold, imaginative writing: The 2016 Cubs are 20-up after a mere 48 contests, sitting ridiculously pretty at 34-14.
They’ll look to extend a five-game winning streak against the N.L. West’s second-place Dodgers, who are 27-24 and pretty hot themselves, winners of six of their last seven.
Monday: Alex Wood (1-3, 4.03) vs. Jason Hammel (6-1, 2.17), 4:05 p.m., WGN.
Tuesday: Scott Kazmir (4-3, 4.84) vs. Jake Arrieta (9-0, 1.72), 7:05 p.m., Ch. 7, ESPN (out-of-market only).
Wednesday: Mike Bolsinger (1-1, 4.50) vs. Jon Lester (5-3, 2.48), 7:05 p.m., CSN, ESPN.
Thursday: Kenta Maeda (4-3, 3.00) vs. Kyle Hendricks (3-4, 2.93), 1:20 p.m., CSN.
Go on, riffle through those Dodgers names once more. No, indeed, you won’t find Clayton Kershaw, who is widely regarded as — even in this Age of Arrieta — the best pitcher in baseball.
It won’t be easy-breezy for the Cubs, though. Wood has been hard-luck but terrific of late, with a 1.96 ERA and 27 strikeouts over his last three starts. Wood fanned 13 in his last outing, and fellow lefty Kazmir — in the N.L. for the first time, at 32 — sat down 12 in his. These guys can be nasty.
Avoiding Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is a mighty fine idea. He has 15 saves and has allowed a run in only two of 21 appearances.
Shortstop Corey Seager is a batter to watch; he has three straight multi-hit games and leads the Dodgers in extra-base hits with 21. Seager’s eight home runs ties him for the team lead with center fielder Joc Pederson.
Veterans Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Utley are hovering around .300. And Yasiel Puig lurks as an ever-present danger, although he’s off to a slow start.
The Dodgers have fielded the ball well and are fourth in the N.L. in team ERA. Of course, that’s due in large part to the crazy-good work of Kershaw (1.56 ERA).
On: Jason Hammel. As good as he has been on the road (2.23 ERA), Hammel has been even better at home (2.04). Perhaps the biggest key for Hammel has been his ability to bear down with runners in scoring position; he has held batters to seven hits and a .163 average in such situations, the latter figure the fifth-best in all of baseball.
Off: Javy Baez. He is 5-for-36 (.139) at the plate over his last 15 games. In 191 careet at-bats at Wrigley Field, Baez is hitting just .183.
On: Kris Bryant. He has been locked in for over a month, batting .310 over his last 32 games. Bryant has scored a run in six consecutive games and is the only major leaguer with at least 37 RBIs and 37 runs scored.
Off: Anthony Rizzo. The production drought continues. Since collecting four RBIs on May 14, Rizzo has driven in only three in 12 games. One of those RBIs came in Sunday’s victory over the Phillies. Maybe Rizzo — still tied for third in the N.L. in RBIs, with 36 — is getting ready to go on another binge?
On: 17 Ws. The Cubs are 17-6 at home and 17-8 on the road. Only four other major league teams have reached 17 victories at home (Boston, Baltimore, Texas) or on the road (Seattle).
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.