July 2, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) celebrates a home run with left fielder Alfonso Soriano (12) in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs @ New York Mets


The Mets and Cubs lock up for their second head-to-head match-up in two weeks, as Chicago flies into New York to take on the Amazins at Citi Field. Although the Mets are three games under .500 all-time against the Cubs, they have fared much better at home historically, as they boast a 179-161 record. Terry Collins hopes his club can build on the 17-1 victory they handed Chicago on getaway day at Wrigley, stealing that one win out of the three game set.

How they’re performing:

Despite losing last night to the Braves, the Cubs have been on a surge since they played the Mets, winning seven of their last ten contests, including a four-game winning streak that saw them sweep the Astros. Even with their recent streak of good luck, the Cubbies still have the worst record in the National League, tied with the Colorado Rockies at 31-51. Dale Svuem’s club is already 15 games out of first place, and it’s no secret Chicago will be sellers at the trade deadline. Anthony Rizzo (.314 BA) and Bryan LaHair (.289 BA) have been leading the way offensively for the Cubs, as a slump has brought down Starlin Castro‘s average to .287. LaHair (14 HR) and

June 30, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana (57) pitches in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Alfonso Soriano (15 HR) are the only players on the squad with a double digit home run total as we move toward the All-Star break, and that’s helped Soriano grab the team lead in RBI, with 46.

The pitching has been the bigger problem for the Cubs, as their most reliable starter, Ryan Dempster, has been on the disabled list. Matt Garza has been hit hard lately, but Tim Wood has been picking up the slack, with a scoreless streak that hasn’t been seen by a Cub pitcher since Ted Lilly in 2008. Manuel Corpas, James Russell, and Shawn Camp have been solid out of the bullpen, but Carlos Marmol has been inconsistent, leaving Chicago without the confidence of having a shutdown closer at the end of a ball game.

New York has now won two straight series after dropping two of three at Wrigley, mostly thanks to the heroics of David Wright and Daniel Murphy against Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning last night. The Metsies are currently sitting at 45-38 on the year, 4.5 games behind the Nationals for first place in the NL East, and have gone 6-4 in their last 10 games. Despite losing his starting spot in the All-Star game, David Wright continues to lead the Mets in almost every offensive category. Murphy’s resurgence and the return of Ruben Tejada have stabilized the offense, and Scott Hairston now leads the club with 12 homers this year. As always, the bullpen has been erratic, but Pedro Beato will try to give them some consistency with his return to the Big League squad, bridging the gap to Bobby Parnell while Frank Francisco sits on the shelf.

Probable pitching match-ups:

Travis Wood (3-3, 3.05 ERA) vs. Johan Santana (6-4, 2.76 ERA)

As was said before, Travis Wood has been dominant since he beat the Mets in Chicago; he’s thrown 18.2 consecutive scoreless innings. The key for Mets hitters will be to get ahead in the count, as Wood has a 6.57 ERA when he’s behind, compared to a 1.25 ERA when he is ahead. New York was considering skipping Santana’s final start of the first half to give him some extra rest, but combining his eight shutout innings in LA with how he fared with extra rest after his no-hitter, and they decided to keep him on his normal schedule.

Jeff Samardzija (6-7, 4.77 ERA) vs. Dillon Gee (5-7, 4.34 ERA)

The Cubs’ right-hander got touched up for 9 runs in 4.1 innings his last time facing the Mets in their 17-1 romp at Wrigley, and it could be tough for Samardzija to get back on track on the road, where he’s compiled a 3-4 record, 5.63 ERA, and 1.63 WHIP. Gee is also looking to get revenge on Chicago and string together back-to-back quality starts. The key for Gee in this match-up will be putting hitters away with two outs; so far this season, he has a 5.04 ERA once he records two outs in an inning. Also, some defensive help will be nice.

Chris Volstad (0-7, 7.94 ERA) vs. Jonathon Niese (7-3, 3.35 ERA)

Volstad has had a dreadful year; in his last three starts, he given up 16 runs in 12.1 innings pitched. His inability to retire hitters after getting ahead in the count has been one of his biggest issues this season, compiling a 8.04 ERA in that particular situation. On the other hand, Niese has been fantastic and will be looking to put together his fourth straight quality start, while improving upon his performance during day games, which currently stands at 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA.

Who’s hot:

Daniel Murphy has continued his resurgence at the plate after a poor month of June (.240/.253/.427). In four games this month, he’s hitting a healthy .467 while slugging .733. In his last ten games, Murph is hitting .432 and has seen his batting average jump 20 points. This stretch has included five multi-hit games and 15 RBI. He’ll be more happy after Travis Wood is off the mound, since he’s only hitting .252 against southpaws this season. Despite his recent power surge, he still hasn’t hit a home run at Citi Field yet, so maybe he can make that Home Run Apple rise this weekend.

Anthony Rizzo made his MLB debut against the Mets a memorable one in front of the home crowd, collecting two base hits and a crucial RBI in a Cubs win. Since then, he has continued to hit well, hitting .314/.333/.657, including three homers and six RBI. Although his 10-game MLB career is a small sample size, the Chicago infielder has been able to hold his when behind in the count, hitting .267 in 15 such at-bats.

Who’s not:

Lucas Duda has been scuffling mightily for the Amazins in the last week and a half, only hitting .143 and driving in one run. He was the club leader in runs batted in, but his cold streak combined with David Wright’s RBI binge has left him in the dust. New York has faced some tough lefties in the past week, which is part of the reason for his current struggles, as he’s hitting .216/.270/.284 in 2012 when faced with that situation. Although, if he’s going to get hot, it’s going to happen at home, where he’s hit 8 of his 11 home runs this season.

Since playing the Mets, Starlin Castro has seen his batting average drop 14 points, due to him also hitting .143 in his last ten games. Castro is the engine that normally gets this offense going, so it’s been surprising that they have continued to win with him struggling. He’s hit better on the road than at home this year (.302 vs. .270) and with Santana and Niese on the hill, he will look to get healthy on the lefties, as his hitting .312/.354/.409 against southpaws in 2012.

These are the final three games before the All-Star break, so let’s see if New York can finish this first half on a high note…Let’s go Mets!

Next Mets Game View full schedule »
Friday, Aug 2929 Aug7:10Philadelphia PhilliesBuy Tickets

Tags: Alfonso Soriano Cubs @ Mets Daniel Murphy David Wright Dillon Gee Jeff Samardjzia Johan Santana Jonathon Niese Lucas Duda Matt Musico Mets Series Preview New York Mets Rising Apple Scott Hairston Series Preview Starlin Castro Travis Wood