Inside The Ivy: Cubs vs. Sox

CHICAGO - After taking game one of a three-game series in St. Louis on Tuesday night, the Cubs (40-32) lost a heartbreaker Wednesday and were inept at almost every aspect of play Thursday in the series finale.<BR><BR> As such, the team will look to rebound this weekend against a Chicago White Sox (42-37) club that has given them fits in years past, and are playing relatively good baseball again this season.

If opposites attract, this should be a fun series for both clubs. The Cubs are obviously a team built more around solid pitching, while the Sox are more prone to beat you with the lumber. The latter has especially held true in the month of June, where the Sox have won only one series.

The South siders have baseball's best team batting average with a .282 mark through their first 69 games this season. Likewise, with sluggers Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko consistently on first-year manager Ozzie Guillen's lineup card, it is no wonder the Sox trail only the New York Yankees in homeruns with an even 100 this year.

The Cubs, not exactly a stranger to the long ball either, rank fifth in the majors in homeruns (94). They have also hit .273 as a team this season in 72 games, good for ninth in the majors. The biggest difference between the two clubs lies in the department of OBP. The Sox enter play this weekend tied with Boston and San Francisco for second in the majors with a .355 OBP. The Cubs rank much lower on the list with a .330 mark.

Despite the success Sox hitters have had under second-year hitting coach Greg Walker, pitching has been a different tale for the South siders. The team currently ranks ninth in the American League with a 4.64 staff ERA. Of a current four-man rotation that features Esteban Loaiza, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Scott Schoeneweis, Loaiza's 4.18 ERA ranks best on the staff.

For the Cubs, Derrek Lee is on a mind-boggling tear as of late, batting a whopping .446 in the month of June. Compared to years past, hitting the ball well in June is nothing new for the 28-year-old Lee. But even this recent trend has been unchartered waters for the Cubs' first baseman. Lee's current .446 mark is over 100 points better than his career .312 lifetime average in June.

Probable Pitching Matchup's

Friday, June 25, 3:05 CT: Mark Prior (1-1, 3.66 ERA) vs. Jon Garland (5-4, 4.64 ERA) - WGN

Mark Prior is still looking for consistency in regards to the command of his breaking ball. This past Saturday at Wrigley Field, the Oakland Athletics scored three runs on six hits in five innings against Prior, mainly off hanging curveballs. This will be Prior's first matchup against the Sox since his rookie 2002 campaign.

Former Cubs first round draft pick Jon Garland has been hit pretty hard by his former team since breaking into the Sox rotation in 2000. The 24-year-old often relies on hitters to pound his sinker into the ground for outs. Garland has posted a career 4.61 ERA in four-plus seasons, and for anyone to still compare the Garland for Matt Karchner swap in 1998 to that of Sammy Sosa for George Bell after the '91 season would be beyond hysterical.

Saturday, June 26, 3:05 CT: Carlos Zambrano (8-2, 2.25 ERA) vs. Scott Schoeneweis (5-6, 4.36 ERA) - Fox Sports Net

Carlos Zambrano, the ace of the Cubs' staff so far in 2004, continued to dominate last week in a victorious effort against the Oakland Athletics, in which he allowed only one run over 6.2 innings. One guy in the potent Sox lineup that Zambrano will have to be careful with is Carlos Lee, who is 5-for-8 with a homer lifetime against the Cubs' right-hander. Lee has also hit the ball some 45 points better at home than on the road this year.

Scott Schoeneweis is a southpaw prone to giving up his fair share of hits, as witnessed this season. In 88.2 innings pitched, the former Anaheim Angel has already allowed some 94 hits in 14 starts. Schoeneweis' 1.49 WHIP also ranks highest among the Sox current starters this season.

Sunday, June 27, 2:05 CT: Greg Maddux (6-5, 4.02 ERA) vs. Esteban Loaiza (7-3, 4.18 ERA) - WGN

Greg Maddux isn't very familiar with the South siders in his career. In fact, the Sox are one of just three teams Maddux has never faced. On the road this season, the future Hall of Famer has turned in some of his better outings, going 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA.

The Sox found lightning in a bottle when they took a gamble on Esteban Loaiza in the spring of last year. Loaiza won 21 games for the Sox in 2003 and was the starting pitcher for the American League all-stars a year ago. The right-hander was hammered in his last start back on Monday night when then Cleveland Indians tagged him for six earned runs in 4.1 innings of work.

SERIES NOTES: Since interleague play began in 1997, the Sox lead the head-to-head series with the Cubs, 20-16. The White Sox have won three straight series against the Cubs dating back to 2002.

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