Inside The Ivy: Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

The 2003 Baseball season is coming down to the final hour. With only two major league teams having clinched their division, the NL Central remains the tightest division in all of baseball. The Chicago Cubs (82-70) continue to heat up, winning three in a row, while it took a 40-degree temperature drop to cool off the red hot Houston Astros (83-69).

The second place Cubs and the division leading Astros find themselves separated by only one game, while the third place St. Louis Cardinals (79-75) are watching their playoff hopes slowly fade, five games back. While the division is still a three-team race, the Cubs schedule may give them a slight edge since they face only the weak Pittsburgh Pirates and even weaker Cincinnati Reds in their last 10 games. If you're a betting man, the deck is stacked in Chicago's favor, and they are holding all four aces in their starting rotation.

The Cubs head to Pittsburgh for a 4-game series to start their last road trip of the regular season. Chicago has stepped it up in September, going 13-4 while winning 4 of 5 series. The Cubs just finished a three-game sweep of the New York Mets but failed to gain too much ground on the Houston Astros who have also played solid in September.

The Cubs' starting pitching has remained solid while the bullpen has become feared by opponents once again. Joe Borowski has 7 saves in 7 opportunities during September, and has converted 30 of 34 chances on the season. Offensively the Cubs have been producing just enough to win their games. In their four September losses, they were only able to score six runs while being shut out twice.

Mark Grudzielanek has been a hitting machine since returning from the disabled list in the beginning of September. Grudzielanek is batting .431 in September and went 13 for his last 21 (.619 BA) to raise his season average to .318. Moises Alou has also had a hot hand, hitting .367 in September.

The Pittsburgh Pirates (71-81) are 6-4 in their last 10 games and sit in fourth place in the division, 12 games behind the Astros. The Pirates won their last series against the Cincinnati Reds 3 games to 1. Jason Kendall is hot, hitting over .370 in September and raising his team-leading average to .325. Reggie Sanders has also hit well, raising his average (.285) six points in September but has only hit two homeruns. Sanders still leads the team with 31 HR and 87 RBI. During the Cincinnati series, Pirate centerfielder Tike Redman extended his hitting streak to 10 games and raised his batting average back above .300.

Here are the pitching match-up's:

Friday, September 19, 4:05 CDT (Game 1): Carlos Zambrano (13-10, 2.77 ERA) vs. Josh Fogg (10-8, 4.71 ERA) - Fox Sports Chicago
Carlos Zambrano has been a surprise bonus in the rotation this year. Zambrano has become a totally different pitcher during the second half of this season. Before the All Star Game, Zambrano was 6-8 with a 3.58 ERA and no complete games. Afterwards, he has a 7-2 record while pitching three complete games and dropping his season ERA almost a whole run to a 2.77. In his last game, Zambrano pitched a tight 4-hit, 7-strikeout complete game against Cincinnati. Unfortunately, he allowed one run while the Cubs failed to score, allowing him to record his 10th loss.

Josh Fogg is 4-4 in his last 10 games. Recently he has pitched rather well with a one run complete-game win against Cincinnati, followed by a seven-inning win against Philadelphia in his last start. During his last two starts, Fogg lowered his ERA under 5.00 for the first time since he was beat up for seven runs in four innings against the Cardinals on July 21.

Friday, September 19 (Game 2): Juan Cruz (2-5, 5.56 ERA) vs. Salomon Torres (5-5, 4.94 ERA) - Fox Sports Chicago
Juan Cruz will get the start in the second game of the double header. Cruz has spent most of the season on the fence between the pitching staff and the minors. When he has been called up with the team, Cruz has been riding on another fence between the starting rotation and the bullpen. After repeated failures by Shawn Estes, it looked as if Cruz had landed himself a spot in the rotation with two solid performances. Then, in his last start, the Reds beat up Cruz when he gave up six earned runs in 5 innings pitched. Although Cruz can look shaky at times, he looks dominant at others, and looks to be a better bet to remain in the rotation.

Salomon Torres has also been thrown into different roles throughout this season. Torres has started only 14 of the 39 games he has pitched in while recording two saves and blowing one. Torres has not managed to record a victory since he beat the Indians back on June 20. In his last three games, Torres gave up 13 runs in only 15 innings of work recording 2 losses and no wins.

Saturday, September 20, 6:05 CDT: Matt Clement (13-11, 4.01 ERA) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (1-1, 7.24 ERA) - WGN
Matt Clement has been a solid number three starter. Clement is 6-2 in his last 10 starts and has not recorded a loss since he gave up a whopping 8 runs in 4 innings against the Astros on August 19th. Clement started out September with some trouble when he failed to make it past the sixth inning in two straight starts, giving up 7 total runs while walking 8. He bounced back in his last start against the Mets when he pitched 7 innings with no earned runs and only 2 walks on the way to his 13th win.

Ryan Vogelsong has spent the majority of his time pitching in the minors this season. He only appeared in four games for the Pirates when he was called up in June, August and again in September. After his first three games in the majors, Vogelsong gave up 11 runs in only 8.2 innings. In his last call up in September, he looked like a different pitcher when he shut out the Reds for five innings, earning him his first win of the season.

Sunday, September 21, 12:35 CDT: Mark Prior (16-6, 2.47 ERA) vs. Oliver Pérez (4-9, 5.40 ERA) - WGN
After a small bump in his flawless return from the DL, Mark Prior returned to form by holding the Mets to 2 runs in 8.2 innings, while striking out 13, to earn his 16th win of the season. Prior is 8-1 since the All Star game and is closing in on second place in the major league strike out race, only 3 K's behind Javier Vazquez (224 K). If he can catch Vazquez he will finish behind teammate Kerry Wood, who leads with 254 strikeouts. Prior's 2.47 ERA leads the Cubs and ranks him third in the NL and fourth overall.

Oliver Perez has had his problems this season. Perez is 1-5 in his last 10 starts. Perez started September with two impressive outings when he pitched 7 innings in each game and only gave up a total of 3 earned runs and struck out 16. The Pirates did not manage to supply enough run support to earn Perez a decision in either game. In his third and last start of the month, he was shook up a little when he gave up 4 earned runs in five innings, earning his ninth loss of the season.

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