On Monday night, the Chicago Cubs will begin a critical stretch of games that may very well go a long way in determining their quest for the playoffs. The Cubs will begin with three games in Pittsburgh against the Pittsburgh Pirates, followed by a four-game home series against the defending champion San Francisco Giants. Heading into this week, the Cubs and Giants are tied for the second National League Wild Card spot four games behind the Pirates. If the Cubs are ready to return to the postseason, this week will be an important stretch of games in reaching that goal.
After a ten-game stretch against last place teams got off to an uneasy start in being swept by the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cubs are now riding a five-game winning streak heading into Pittsburgh. The last ten games have been a microcosm of the trial-and-error season that the young Cubs have been on in 2015. While the offense could still be better, the pitching continues to be the backbone of the club. This week has seen Anthony Rizzo get hot with four straight games hitting a home run, and star rookie Kris Bryant appears to have avoided any major injury after being taken out of the game early Sunday. Addison Russell is making adjustments at the plate, Kyle Schwarber continues to slug, and Dexter Fowler has reached based in 17 straight games.
To start this stretch, Chicago will pitch Jon Lester, who is starting to turn in consistent deep outings while racking up a ton of strikeouts. Steady Jake Arrieta will follow, with new Cub Dan Haren taking the ball on Wednesday. The Chicago staff has held up through challenging times to now sport the league’s sixth best ERA, and are also third in the league in strikeouts.
After the three game series in Pittsburgh, the upcoming schedule will be equally as important for the Cubs if they hope to remain in contention over the long stretch. Beginning Thursday, the Cubs will play 17 straight games in the city of Chicago. Victories will be there for the taking if the Cubs can capitalize on the schedule. For Chicago, hopefully a sluggish start can be avoided like the one against the Phillies. Rizzo believes that the Cubs will be in for a big August. He also feels that this team will be able to thrive off of a playoff-type atmosphere on a daily basis. If that is the case, the Cubs will be right there down the stretch and in line for the postseason. But all of that begins with this critical stretch of games this week.