Inside The Ivy: Cubs vs. Diamondbacks

CHICAGO - After an exciting four-game series with the arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs (15-10) go back home to begin a six-game homestand before heading back out on the road for a tough West Coast trip.

Last week, the Cubs struggled in Arizona, but came away fortunate enough to win the series finale with the Diamondbacks (10-14) and avoid a three-game sweep in the process. This time, however, the Cubs appear to have caught the D'backs at the perfect time (a bit strange after facing them just one week ago).

Diamondbacks slugger Richie Sexson sustained a partially torn labrum and dislocated shoulder, as well as a bruised humerus bone after he was unable to stop a check swing on April 28. Sexson will be out two to six weeks and may require surgery. In the meantime, IF Shea Hillenbrand will start at first base in Sexson's absence.

As if losing arguably their biggest offensive threat in the lineup wasn't bad enough for Arizona, RHP Matt Mantei (4-for-7 in save opportunities, 11.88 ERA) is having a very tough time in the role of Diamondbacks closer, and is rumored to soon be designated to setup duties in favor of right-hander Jose Valverde.

The Cubs also catch a break by not having to face the Diamondbacks' two best starting pitchers, left-hander Randy Johnson (12-0 lifetime against the Cubs) and right-hander Brandon Webb.

Here is a closer look at the pitching match-up's for the series:

Tuesday, May 4, 7:05 CDT: Steve Sparks (1-1, 4.56 ERA) vs. Sergio Mitre (1-1, 4.43 ERA) - WCIU

The Diamondbacks roughed up Sergio Mitre last Tuesday in his worst outing of the young season. Mitre struggled with the command of his off-speed pitches and was ultimately tagged for five runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings. Despite that, the 23-year-old Mitre has still provided adequate starts in Mark Prior's absence.

The Cubs have not seen a pitcher like knuckleballer Steve Sparks in a long time, and likely will not see many more like him for the rest of the season. Sparks is a right-handed specialist who features the floating knuckler, which may cause Cubs manager Dusty Baker to shuffle his usual lineup just a tad. Don't be surprised if Moises Alou gets a much-deserved night off since the superb fastball hitter often has a difficult time hitting pitchers that focus solely on off-speed stuff.

Wednesday, May 5, 7:05 CDT: Casey Daigle (0-1, 8.55 ERA) vs. Kerry Wood (3.1, 2.52 ERA) - Fox Sports Net Chicago Plus

Kerry Wood was tremendous against the Cardinals back on Friday night in his last start, but the Cubs were unable to help him on the offensive side. Wood eventually settled for a no-decision despite going eight innings and striking out 10 batters.

Casey Daigle spends much of his with softball sweety Jennie Finch of the University of Arizona hanging on his arm. That does nothing to ease the pain of an 8.55 ERA, but it's a nice little cushion to fall back on. The Cubs meanwhile would gladly accept a win over the struggling Daigle, with their ace pitcher on the hill at home.

Thursday, May 6, 1:20 CDT: Elmer Dessens (1-3, 7.66 ERA) vs. Matt Clement (4-1, 1.95 ERA) - WGN

Brilliant: that is all that needs to be said about Matt Clement's last four starts. In those starts, he is 4-0 while only allowing three runs in 28.1 innings to go with 31 strikeouts.

The Cubs are very familiar with 33-year-old right-hander Elmer Dessens after his pitching days in Cincinnati. Dessens brings a sinking fastball in the low 90's to the park against opposing hitters. When he has good command, he will use that sinker to get many groundballs.

The Cubs will host Arizona and the Colorado Rockies for six games at Wrigley Field before beginning a seven-day West Coast road trip that features stops in Los Angeles and San Diego.

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