A Cubs team looking for any kind of offensive spark now gets the best pitcher on the planet.
The Cubs knew it was coming, a brutal early schedule filled with teams expecting to play deep into October.
It happens to be two-time Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay and the Phillies on Friday night, in front of what should be another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
But it started Opening Day against Stephen Strasburg, a run of high-end pitching that helps explain why the Cubs are 6-13: Gio Gonzalez, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Mark Buehrle and Adam Wainwright (twice).
The Cubs will miss aces Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee whos on the disabled list with a strained left oblique during this four-game series. Franchise players Ryan Howard (torn Achilles) and Chase Utley (knee) are also on the DL.
Dale Sveum will crunch the numbers and try to manipulate the matchups. But the Cubs manager can only do so much against the Phillies (9-10 with a 2.88 team ERA).
Its going to be tough to score runs and put things together, Sveum said. Thats why theyve got one of the best pitching staffs over the last few years.
Hopefully, getting into more of a hitters park we can hit some home runs and you got to do that against those kind of pitchers, because its just hard to string hits together. They dont walk anybody either.
Over the winter, the Cubs consciously avoided adding a proven big bat to their lineup, and theyre paying for it now. Theyve scored more than four runs only four times this season and only once in their last 11 games.
The Cubs woke up on Thursday last in the National League with seven home runs (and four were hit by Bryan LaHair). They were next-to-last in slugging percentage (.333). They are hitting .211 with runners in scoring position.
We knew the schedule was going to be tough, Sveum said. But, hey, thats Major League Baseball. A lot of teams have really good starting pitching now. Thats part of the game and you got to find a way to scratch runs out and have good at-bats and get leads.
Yes, these are small sample sizes. But combined, Geovany Soto and Ian Stewart went 2-for-34 on the homestand that ended Wednesday. Sotos hitting .140 with one RBI so far this season, while Stewarts at .175.
Alfonso Soriano seems to have a better approach, and has driven in 10 runs, but hes stuck on one extra-base hit this month.
Thats the last thing on my mind losing confidence, Soriano said. I have 11 years in this game. Ive played this game consistently. I know what I can do. We play 162 games. Sometimes you have a bad week, two weeks, but its a six-month (deal). The season isnt over.
The seasons first six weeks will be telling for Cubs management, because 21 of their first 39 games are against the Phillies, Cardinals and Brewers, three playoffs teams in 2011.
This road trip continues to Cincinnati, where the Reds are a trendy pick to win the division. The Cubs will return to Wrigley Field on May 4 for a homestand against the Dodgers and Braves, who combined won 171 games last season.
You want that, utility man Jeff Baker said. If you can play well against those teams and you can do some damage, you can get the confidence going. You can get the city behind you.
If you go out there and youre playing some teams that didnt have a great year last year and you beat em, then everyone says youre supposed to beat em.
As players, you want to go out there and play against those tough teams. For us, if its early, so be it. Well take our chances and roll with it.
So this could be revealing. Tony Campana who has five hits and four stolen bases in five games will try to maximize his opportunity after the Marlon Byrd trade and give the Cubs a different dimension.
Randy Wells, who gets the ball on Saturday, will try to force the issue and grab a spot in the rotation. You can pretty much go up and down the roster, because new president Theo Epstein is taking this year to assess the entire organization.
Starting with Halladay (3-1, 1.50 ERA), the Cubs will begin to find out what theyre made of in South Philly.