The Chicago Cubs are not be kicking up much dust in their first season under front office guidance from Theo Epstein, but the Boston Red Sox he left behind could be in danger of being left in the dust of the AL East race if they cannot turn things around soon.
Epstein was in the news this week regarding his former
employer as the Red Sox arrive in Chicago
for a weekend series at Wrigley Field. Now serving as Cubs president, Epstein admitted the Red Sox "didn't
execute well in big-name free agency," and alluded to a couple of
particularly bad signings as mistakes made under pressure just to ink a big
name and make a splash in the offseason when being "patient" would
have been more prudent.
Exactly how patient the Red Sox will be under new GM Ben
Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine remains to be seen. Boston hits
the Windy City a game below .500 at 31-32 and
sharing the AL East basement with the Toronto Blue Jays. A mere 6.5 games stand between the Sox and
first place in the division, a gap that a strong second half of June could wipe
out. Regardless of why they are struggling (injuries are a
popular excuse), taking at least two out of three from the lowly Cubs is the
expected outcome this weekend, and a sweep could jumpstart a strong close of
June to help get the Red Sox back in the picture.
turns to Daisuke Matsuzaka to begin the series in Friday's matinee at
Wrigley. The Cubs hand the ball to Ryan
Dempster, who has also been in the news recently. Chicago opened
as the slight favorite with the early MLB odds listing the North Side squad
from -107 to -115, but that has since swung entirely the other direction with Boston -110 to -115 on
Friday morning. As always, we will have
to wait until later Friday morning for the total to be released.
The Red Sox won their final two games in Miami
to stop a 1-7 run on the moneyline that included being swept at Fenway Park
last weekend by the Washington Nationals. One of those defeats came with Dice K on the hill in his season debut
after beginning the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The Nats scored all four of their runs off
Matsuzaka during his five innings, but there were some encouraging signs as he
walked just one against eight strikeouts.
Dice K is making his first start against the Cubs when
Wrigley Field becomes the 21st stadium for the former Japanese phenom to
perform in. Matsuzaka has actually pitched much better on the road for his
career (3.77 ERA) than in Boston
Epstein noted his focus in Chicago is on the "long term," and
some long-term pieces could come his way if the Cubs ultimately trade their
Friday starter. Dempster's 2-3 record
disguises how well he has pitched; his 2.31 ERA ranks fifth in the National
League and a 1.03 WHIP is eighth. Now in
his 15th season, the Canadian is coveted by 10 teams according to one recent
report after he and Epstein met this week to discuss possible trade scenarios.
Dempster is in the last year of a 4-year contract and can
veto any deal, but we're talking about a guy who has started, relieved and been
a class act his entire career. Add the
fact that Epstein is working with him on a possible trade, and it is doubtful
he would nix a swap that could land the Cubs a few fine prospects. The Los
Angeles Dodgers have been the team mentioned most as a possible destination.
The righthander brings a 15.1 IP scoreless string into
Friday, but has yet to register a dubya in front of the home fans. Like Matsuzaka, Dempster has actually pitched
better away from Wrigley since being used exclusively in the rotation beginning
in 2008, and especially this season with almost a 3-run margin between his home
ERA (3.98) and his road mark (1.06).
Taking a Chance: One of
the first things we want to check out for a game at Wrigley is the weather, and
the forecast is for a sunny, warm day with the thermometer in the mid-80s at
game time. There is also a slight 10 mph
SSE wind in the current mix, which would be blowing out to left field. We look for a total around 8, and for those
interested, the OVER is 5-1 in Dempster's last six starts which were listed in
the 7-9 span.
It is just the third
interleague series between the two clubs, and second straight season for the
Red Sox and Cubs to meet after Boston took two of three at Fenway in June
2011. Dice K could cross us up in his
second start of 2012, but we're going to back the Cubbies behind Dempster. My pick is Chicago +105.