Cubs homestand has serious division implications

By Cat Garcia

The lengthy nine-game road trip that spanned over 11 days for the Cubs will finally come to an end today, but after an off day on Thursday, the road ahead is where the real challenge lies. Friday, the Cubs will return home to Wrigley Field for a six-game homestand that will have them hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals each for a three-game set.

Though the Cubs still find themselves with a substantial lead over these two teams in the division, playing them back-to-back will leave much room to solidify the division lead even further as we head into the dog days of summer. However, there is also the danger that it leaves a bit of potential for the lead they currently have to shrink.

Recently, it seems to be a theme of former Cubs to always find their way back to the Friendly Confines, and this was proven yet again when, to the surprise of most, it was announced that former Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan had rejoined the team. The Cubs brass completed a deal for Coghlan with the Oakland A’s in exchange for once highly-touted prospect Arismendy Alcantara on Thursday.

Coghlan was originally traded to the Oakland A’s during Spring Training this year to make room for the rejoining Dexter Fowler. Coghlan will serve to help bolster the Cubs outfield that is currently without Kyle Schwarber for the season and outfielder Jorge Soler. Coghlan was an exceptional addition to the 2015 Cubs bench, and batted .250/.341/.443 over 148 games with the Cubs while contributing above-average defense in left field.

The Cubs pitching staff continues to dominate the league two months into the season, and their starting staff still holds an NL leading ERA of 2.34, just above the second place Mets staff who are currently posting an ERA of 3.22. The Cardinals and Pirates are currently seventh and eighth in the league, respectively, with ERAs over four.

Jake Arrieta is scheduled to make the start for the Cubs on Friday in the series opener against the Pirates, while Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks will take the mound for the remainder of the series, leaving John Lackey and Jason Hammel in line to start during the Cardinals series early next week.

The arrival of James Shields on the south side of Chicago was likely envisioned in multiple ways, but the way in which his first two outings at U.S. Cellular Field have unfolded were surely not among that list.

During Shields’ debut last Wednesday night on the south side, he allowed eight hits and seven earned runs including three home runs in just two innings of work before exiting the game against the Nationals. Having seen just two innings of work from their starter, the White Sox bullpen was worn quite thin, resorting to position player J.B. Shuck to take the mound in the ninth inning to close out an 11-4 blowout loss at U.S Cellular Field.

In Shields’ second start at home on Monday evening, this time against the division rival Tigers, things didn’t look much different. Shields immediately surrendered a home run on the second pitch of the ballgame to Ian Kinsler, breaking ground on two innings that would have Shields digging the White Sox into a hole early with a seven run deficit. Shields has now allowed 14 earned runs, six walks, and four home runs over seven innings of work with the White Sox.

It’s never over until it’s over though – and the White Sox rallied to win Monday’s contest 10-9 after a spectacular 12 inning marathon. The White Sox saw their offense step up to support the struggling Shields, including Jose Abreu, who went 2-4 with three RBIs on the evening. Second basemen Brett Lawrie contributed to the rally as well by going 3-6 with two RBIs while the White Sox bullpen locked down the game only allowing two runs to score after Shields departed. Shields went a total of 5 innings, putting together two scoreless innings to end his outing on the day, something he says he wishes to build upon after experiencing a rough stretch over the course of his last three starts dating back to his time in San Diego.

With an off day on Thursday, the White Sox will now head to Progressive Field to take on the division leading Cleveland Indians for three games before heading to Boston to face the Red Sox at Fenway Park in a four-game set. The White Sox are currently fourth in the American League Central, trailing behind the Indians, Royals, and Tigers.

Cat is a Staff Writer for BP Wrigleyville and BP Southside, Baseball Prospectus’ blogs covering Chicago baseball, and a Contributor for Follow her on Twitter: @TheBaseballGirl.

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