Jun 19, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (13) reacts after making catch against the Chicago White Sox during the fifth inning at US Cellular Field. The Cubs defeat the White Sox 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: Mets @ Cubs


The Mets will be traveling to Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Cubs for the first time in 2012. New York holds an all-time record of 345-347 against the Cubbies, and they will look for better results than their head-to-head match-ups last season, as they went 2-4 against Chicago, losing two of three both at home and on the road, while getting outscored by almost 20 runs in their six games.

How they’re performing:

The Cubs are in full rebuilding mode as they currently have the worst record in Major League Baseball, sitting at 24-48; they have lost their last four games in a row and are now sitting 15.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. It’s been a tough year in Chi-town, but that was expected before Theo Epstein took over, hoping to break another championship curse.

Understandably so, the Cubs have struggled both offensively and defensively en route to such a dismal record; Starlin Castro, Reed Johson, and Bryan LaHair are leading the squad in batting average, all hitting over .280 and Castro being the lone .300 hitter. LaHair shares the homer lead with Alfons0 Soriano (13 each), but Soriano (43) has a slight lead over Castro (38) in the RBI department. Now that Ryan Dempster (2.11 ERA) is on the DL, Matt Garza (4.07) leads active starters in ERA. Jeff Samardzija‘s five wins lead the staff, and he also holds the innings pitched lead (83) and strikeouts (84), proving his transition from bullpen to starting rotation has been smooth.

June 24, 2012; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) singles to left against the New York Yankees during the fifth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

The Mets are looking to get healthy against one of the worst teams in baseball after a frustrating weekend at home against the Yankees. The Amazins have lost two in a row, but are still only 3.5 games behind the Nationals, currently sitting in second place with their 39-34 record. Terry Collins and co. are hoping that they will turn around their luck on the road, as they’ve compiled only a 16-17 record thus far away from Citi Field.

New York received a huge boost last night with the return of Ruben Tejada (.312 BA) to the lineup, while David Wright (.360 BA) continues to punish opposing pitching. Ike Davis has risen out of his slump, but Lucas Duda still leads the squad with 11 home runs and 42 RBI, although Wright is right behind him with 41 rib-eye steaks of his own. The starting pitching is among the best in baseball, receiving solid performances lately from Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese, but the bullpen is among the worst in the league. Frank Francisco is now on the DL, leaving Bobby Parnell the responsibility to close games for now.

Probable pitching match-ups:

Johan Santana (5-3, 3.00 ERA) vs. Travis Wood (1-3, 4.14 ERA)

Santana looks to be back on track, delivering his eight quality start of the season his last time out, his first since his no-hitter at the beginning of the month. He’ll be opposing another southpaw in Travis Wood, who earned his first win with the Cubs in his last start, and despite pitching well (2.92 ERA in last four starts), he hasn’t been able to get ample run support from his offense.

Dillon Gee (5-5, 4.27 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (1-2, 4.91 ERA)

Coming off his seventh straight quality start, Dillon Gee is also enjoying a solid month of June (1-2, 3.29 ERA). He’s also been a better road pitcher in 2012, going 3-1 with a 3.78 ERA, compared to 2-4, 4.55 ERA at Citi Field. Randy Wells has been given the opportunity to start now that Ryan Dempster has hit the DL. He’s made eight appearances out of the bullpen (1-0, 3.38 ERA) and has struggled so far in his transition to the rotation (0-2, 6.57 ERA).

Jonathon Niese (5-3, 3.75 ERA ) vs. Jeff Samardjzia (5-6, 4.34 ERA)

Since his rocky month of May (1-2, 6.07 ERA, 1.62 WHIP), Jonathon Niese has really settled down in June, as he’s gone 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA in his four starts. Most recently, the Mets’ lefty picked up his fifth win of the season, a 6.1 inning outing against the Yankees at Citi Field, only surrendering two runs to a powerful lineup. Samardjzia is looking for his first win since May 29th, trying to erase the 8.53 EAR he’s put together in his last four starts.

Who’s Hot:

Starlin Castro is the centerpiece of the future for Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs. Despite not always being consistent with his glove, he’s a career .300 hitter since his debut with the Cubbies in 2010. Castro has been the one source of offensive production that

first-year manager Dale Sveum can count on, as he’s hit .359 in his last 10 games. There is no doubt the right-hander is licking his chops with the Mets rolling into town, as New York will be throwing to southpaws in this series and the young shortstop a .360/.377/.480 triple slash against lefties in 2012.

David Wright has been red hot for most of the season, but he’s currently boasting a 14-game-hitting streak, his third hitting streak of 10 or more games in 2012. He hasn’t hit a homer in his last 10 games, but is hitting .410 during that time, and is excited to get on the road, as he’s compiled a triple slash of .411/.482/.637. What has been the most impressive about Wright is his ability to cut down on strikeouts this year. Here we are, a week before July, and he still has more walks (44) than strikeouts (39). Something that was unfathomable over the last two seasons.

Who’s Not:

Alfonso Soriano has been a headache for most of his tenure with the Cubs once he joined the club via free agency before the 2007 season. He’s played more than 140 games in a season once in that span, and while his offensive numbers have been going downhill, he continues to be a defensive liability in the outfield. Soriano is hitting decent this year (.265/.317/.478) and could possibly be a DH-option for contending AL teams, but Epstein will need him to bounce back from his .167 BA in his last 10 games. He’ll have to do it against left-handed pitching, as he’s hitting only .193 this season against southpaws.

Since returning from the disabled list, Josh Thole hasn’t been the on-base machine that he was earlier this season. He has seen his average drop from .284 to .260 and is hitting only .219 in his last 10 games. Meanwhile, the run that he drove in Saturday night was the first RBI he’s collected since his return to the lineup. Thole has specifically struggled away from Citi Field; on the road, the Mets catcher hasn’t been exactly tearing it up (.216/.266/.284). To give the bottom of the order some stability, Thole needs to pick it up and start to get back on base consistently.

Tags: Alfonso Soriano Bryan LaHair David Wright Dillon Gee Johan Santana Jonathon Niese Josh Thole Lucas Duda Mets Cubs Mets Series Preview New York Mets Randy Wells Series Preview Starlin Castro Travis Wood