Analysis includes Brewers, Cards, Astros, Pirates, Reds.
Before Cesar Izturis took off for Pittsburgh on Thursday after being traded by the Cubs, general manager Jim Hendry had a request.
“I told him, ‘Why don’t you go over there and beat some of those National League Central teams we’re trying to stay on top of or catch,’ ” Hendry said.
Ah, the National League Central.
It was supposed to be a soft-as-toilet-paper division — and it’s lived up to that billing. Just two of the division’s six teams — Milwaukee (55-43) and the Cubs (51-46) — were over .500 entering play Monday. While it could end up being a two-team race, the other four teams will have a hand in it, either by getting hot or by trying to knock off the Cubs and Brewers.
The Cubs have 41 of their remaining 65 games against NL Central competition, but just three games vs. the Brewers. That means the Cubs will have to make hay against the rest of their division foes, starting tonight, when they open a three-game series at St. Louis, and continuing with three more games at Cincinnati, starting Friday.
Here is a closer look at the Cubs’ five division foes and how they stack up (record through Sunday in parentheses):
This year: The Cubs are 7-5 vs. the Brewers.
Head-to-head games left: 3
Reason to scoff at them: Ace pitcher Ben Sheets and center fielder Bill Hall are on the shelf.
Reason to fear them: The Brewers were solid anyway, and now that rookies Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo are on fire and Prince Fielder is putting together an MVP-type season, they could be tough to catch.
This year: The Cubs are 3-2 vs. the Cardinals.
Head-to-head games left: 11
Reason to scoff at them: The Cards’ laughable starting rotation had ex-Cub Todd Wellemeyer in it before he got hurt. And Chris Carpenter’s season-ending elbow injury doesn’t help matters, as St. Louis was counting on him to return later in the year.
Reason to fear them: Last year, people wrote off St. Louis — and the Cards ended up winning the World Series. They enter this series vs. the Cubs having won five of their last eight games. A sweep of the Cubs would put St. Louis two games behind the North Siders.
This year: The Cubs are 4-2 vs. the Astros.
Head-to-head games left: 9
Reason to scoff at them: Like the White Sox, the Astros are a mere shell of the team that went to the World Series in 2005. Some think the “Carlos Lee Factor” is in effect. Wherever he’s gone lately, his teams have underperformed.
Reason to fear them: The Astros have a habit of being a tough second-half team, and that’s not good for the Cubs.
This year: The Cubs are 4-5 vs. the Pirates.
Head-to-head games left: 6
Reason to scoff at them: They gladly took the offensively challenged Izturis off the Cubs’ hands.
Reason to fear them: This team doesn’t fear the Cubs. The Pirates took two of three from the Cubs in the teams’ series leading into the All-Star break.
This year: The Cubs are 2-4 vs. the Reds.
Head-to-head games left: 12
Reason to scoff at them: They have been playing so poorly this season that rumors are rampant they’d consider trading stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn.
Reason to fear them: Brother Rice High School graduate Pete Mackanin, the Reds’ interim manager, had his team playing at a .588 clip in his first 17 games since taking over July 2. If they keep that up, they could give the Cubs fits.
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