This one is for all those people (mostly Sox fans, from what I gather) who say the Cubs haven't "played anybody" this season. If you are still out there and still ignorantly contend that this is true, without getting into it, I present you the Cubs vs. the Rays.
With an obvious playoff contender on their hands (barring an enormous slump combined with sharp play by the Yankees), the Cubs obviously have an opportunity to make a statement-if what they've done already is not enough to make one, which it obviously is. Here is a team with 40+ wins that's playing the Cubs at home where they have almost as good of a home record as the Cubs do. Perhaps a series win at the immortal Tropicana Field will get the Cubbies the label of a World Series contender-again, for those who have yet to apply that label.
Even the pitching match-ups speak to how good this series could be. Ryan Dempster will face the masterful Scott Kazmir who boasts a 1.74 ERA tomorrow, while Carlos Zambrano faces the oft dangerous (but not of late) Andy Sonnanstine on Wednesday. Who pitches Thursday with James Shields serving suspension is still a mystery but plays to the Cubs advantage. That aside, the Cubs two winningest pitchers will face the Rays' two winningest pitchers and that's an early playoff test if I've ever seen one.
Dempster will have to finally break his road curse to take game one. Though his ERA and opponent batting average are better on the road, the Cubs have yet to hand him a winning decision: He's 0-2 in 5 starts. This would be a great opportunity for the Cubs to give him the run support that has been missing away from Wrigley. That might be easier said than done against Kazmir. Kazmir has been lights out in St. Petersburg, with a 4-0 record and a 0.35 ERA. This month, however, he has been 1-1 with a 3.07, so perhaps that will be the trend that will prevail.
The Cubs will have to do it, however, without Jim Edmonds, who couldn't bribe Lou to start him against lefties. Expect to see Toronto series MVP Reed Johnson in center and leading off. What Lou will do in left remains a mystery. I'm not sure if he's keen to give Patterson another shot against an ace lefty, so look to see Mark DeRosa in left. That would force Ramirez to stay at 3B and have the DH come out of Derrek Lee again. Of all of Lou Piniella's choices, Hoffpauir is probably the lefty he'd be most willing to test against Kazmir.
The Cubs will definitely want to have the bats going. Good thing they were well ensured on Sunday to dampen the bullpen collapse. With Marmol's control issues of late and Scott Eyre's first bad outing, the bullpen will need that cushion room against Tampa. As long as the Cubs don't play those close games like they did during the 9-game win streak, they should be fine.