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CHICAGO CUBS (21-16) at SAN DIEGO PADRES (19-20)
Two teams that seem to be heading in different directions, the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres, meet for the first of three contests on Tuesday night.
It is just the beginning of what should be an extended stretch of successful years for this Cubs franchise as their core of young superstars has led them to victories in six of their last seven games while sitting a mere 3.5-games behind St. Louis in the Central race. They followed up a four-game sweep of the Mets with two wins in three attempts against Pittsburgh over the weekend. They scored 15 runs over the first two games, winning them both before being shutout in the sweep attempt by a score of 3-0. Chicago managed a meager five hits and were 0-for-7 with RISP as they failed to back the strong outing (7 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 7 K) from starter Jake Arrieta. Superstar 1B Anthony Rizzo (.344) saw his nine-game hitting streak come to an end in the loss and he has dominated the month of May, hitting .365 with six homers, 14 RBI and 10 runs. The Padres season has been trending downwards after a successful start to the year and they come into this matchup with a 2-5 record in their last seven games. The recent series against Washington got ugly as they were outscored 24-6 in the final three meetings and failed to even the four-game set with a big 10-5 defeat on Sunday. The Nationals had only eight hits in the contest, but earned six free passes and maximized with men on base, hitting two three-run homers. OF Justin Upton (.293) put up his best effort in the loss with a 3-for-3 day in which he clocked two solo HRs; posting his fourth multi-hit game in the past eight outings. Starting the contest for the visiting Cubbies will be RHP Jason Hammel (3-1, 3.11 ERA) as he looks to outpitch RHP James Shields (5-0, 3.91 ERA) of the host San Diego group. The road has been a struggle for this young Chicago team as they are 8-8 away from home and will be fortunate enough to take on these Padres that are 10-10 at Petco Park. San Diego has gotten the better of the Cubs since the start of 2013 as they are 10-7 overall in the matchup, barely breaking even (4-3) at home in that time. They already met in the Windy City for three games this year when the Padres took 2-of-3 on the road and scored at least five runs in each contest. Some trends to keep an eye on include that when James Shields is on the mound; his team is a mere 1-8 in home games after a loss since the start of last year as San Diego is a solid 18-5 (.783) after a game with a combined score of 15 runs or more in the past three seasons. Chicago is missing tons of depth in this one as 3B Mike Olt (Wrist), 2B Tommy La Stella (Ribs) and OF Chris Denorfia (Hamstring) are out while the Padres are without OF Wil Myers (Undisclosed), 1B Yonder Alonso (Shoulder) and OF Melvin Upton Jr. (Foot).
Hammel has been steadily improving over the past three seasons and is on pace to post a sub-3.50 ERA for the third time in the last four years. He has done so with impeccable control (1.2 BB/9) as he continues to strike out a decent amount of batters (8.0 K/9). Hes put up four consecutive quality starts entering this outing and has a 25:5 K/BB ratio during that period in which his team is 3-1. Hes had little success against the Padres in his career, going 4-3 (6-7 team record) with a 5.15 ERA (1.43 WHIP) and has allowed four or more runs to score in three of his last five performances. OFs Matt Kemp (8-for-28, 2 doubles, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 7 K) and Justin Upton (8-for-32, 2 doubles, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 7 K) have shown some power off of the righty as OF Will Venable has performed horrible with just one hit in 17 at-bats (.059) with three strikeouts. One thing holding Chicago back right now is a below-average bullpen which has gone 8-6 with a 4.32 ERA (1.36 WHIP) and is a poor 9-for-16 (56percent) in save chances. Hector Rondon (3.18 ERA, 8 saves) blew his second save of the year in his last outing and is now 8-for-10 on the year.
Shields has done what his new team was hoping he would, win games, and through eight starts he already has five as he looks to get double-digit victories for the ninth consecutive season. His strikeouts (11.9 K/9) are way above his career average of 7.8 K/9) and he continues to do well despite giving up 12 long balls (2.2 HR/9) on the year. Hes allowed eight of them over his last three starts, but is coming off a fantastic performance (6 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 9 K) in Seattle last Wednesday. Hes met with the Cubs just twice in 293 career starts, going 1-0 (2-0 team record) with a 4.38 ERA (1.30 WHIP) and earned the win against them behind six strong innings (3 ER, 5 H, 9 K) back in April. The only batter with double-digit at-bats against the righty is OF Chris Coughlan and he has been successful with five hits in 15 at-bats (.333) as two went for doubles. On the other side of things, youngsters 3B Kris Bryant, SS Starlin Castro and OF Dexter Fowler have combined to go 1-for-13 with eight strikeouts in the matchup. The Padres pen has been horrible thus far with a 5-5 record, 4.66 ERA (1.38 WHIP), but have saved a solid 11-of-15 (73percent) games. The ninth has been held down by Craig Kimbrel (5.52 ERA, 10 saves) who has not done particularly well in his first season with San Diego, giving up at least one run in six of his last 10 appearances.