Inside The Ivy: Cubs vs. Colorado Rockies

CHICAGO - After dreadful performances by the Cubs offense in recent days, the North siders look to feast on a Colorado pitching staff that ranks last in baseball in many statistical categories.

Rockies (Overall: 12-15; on the road: 4-8)
Cubs (Overall: 16-12; home: 8-5)

The Cubs exploded for 11 runs on 15 hits in an 11-3 victory over Arizona Thursday at Wrigley Field. The most exciting part of the offensive success was first baseman Derrek Lee's 5-for-5, 5 RBI performance, which raised his batting average 39 points to .295 for the year.

Suddenly, critics who questioned the trading of Hee Seop Choi to the Florida Marlins for Lee have become to a rarity. Lee will try to continue his recent success against the struggling Rockies staff, which enters this three-game series with a combined 6.12 ERA, the worst in all of baseball.

LHP Shawn Estes is part of a questionable format that the Rockies have just started - the four-man rotation.

The odds of a four-man rotation working in Denver with the already high altitude of Coors Field could prove detrimental to the stamina of Colorado pitchers as the season wears on.

On offense, the Rockies are currently without two key factors in what is normally a very potent lineup. Outfielders Larry Walker (groin) and Preston Wilson (knee) are both on the 15-day DL, and starting in their place will be non-roster invitees Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe.

First baseman Todd Helton (.347 AVG, 5 HR, 15 RBI) and third baseman Vinny Castilla (.320 AVG, 7 HR, 27 RBI) are still capable of doing some damage in a Rockies lineup that is hitting .280 as a team this season.

Friday, May 7, 2:20 CT: Shawn Estes (4-1, 5.60 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (2-1, 2.78 ERA) - Fox Sports Net Chicago

Carlos Zambrano was almost untouchable in his last outing back on Sunday at Busch Stadium, turning in one of the best performances in his young career. Zambrano pitched seven shutout innings against a potent Cardinals offense, and struck out a career high 12 batters in a no-decision.

Former Cub Shawn Estes had a solid performance against the Atlanta Braves in his last start. Estes allowed four runs in seven innings against the Braves at Coors Field this past Sunday to get the win in his sixth start of the season. Estes' command has remained iffy this season, so if Cub hitters are patient, the 31-year-old left-hander will supply favorable counts for opposing hitters, or issue the free pass.

Saturday, May 8, 1:20 CT: Jason Jennings (1-4, 10.57 ERA) vs. Greg Maddux (2-2, 5.05 ERA) - WGN

After several Cubs fans worried about the performances of Greg Maddux to start the season, the star right-hander and future Hall of Famer has gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last three starts. Maddux looks noticeably better with the command of his fastball, and looks well like the Greg Maddux that everyone in baseball is all too familiar with.

Right-hander Jason Jennings is off to a very disappointing start in 2004. Many thought Jennings would be the ace of this Rockies pitching staff, but now there is even talk of sending him down to Triple-A Colorado Springs to figure out his difficulties. The 25-year-old has solid stuff and will touch 93 MPH with his fastball, in addition to having a solid curve. So far this season, command has been a problem for Jennings.

Sunday, May 9, 1:20 CT: Joe Kennedy (4-0, 2.23 ERA) vs. Sergio Mitre (1-2, 5.13 ERA) - WGN

Sergio Mitre's last two starts have been his worst of the season. Mitre received a loss in both of his past two outings and was unable to get past the fourth inning in either one.

Former Tampa Bay starter Joe Kennedy has been the Rockies' ace en route to a phenomenal start to the season. The left-hander has a very awkward delivery that was a cause for mild control problems in years past. However, Kennedy seems to have found the magical touch with the Rockies, unlike most pitchers that make the trip to Coors. Most astonishing is that all four of Kennedy's wins have come at Coors, in which time his ERA is a stellar 2.22.

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