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Bear-hunting season: Previewing the Cubs series

The Cubs come to town, and the season hasn't quite been going the way the Chicago Northsiders would have wanted. Much like the Diamondbacks, it took a Sunday win for the Cubs to avoid getting swept by a divisional rival, and they come to the desert occupying fourth place in the Central (albeit only three games back), having dropped back-to-back series against the Reds and Cardinals. It's been the offense that's the cause of most of the problems, an OPS+ of 90, compared to a solid ERA+ of 107.

The team has also been hit with a rash of injuries, each enough to cause stress, yet none of them quite sufficient to merit a DL trip. Aramis Ramirez has a strained calf [I had that once: it was delicious], and is day to day, while slugger Derrek Lee left yesterday's game in the first inning with neck spasms. He apparently has a bulging disk in his neck that flares up occasionally, and may or may not appear in this series, which would certainly be a help for Arizona. Though the scariest moment for Cubs fans yesterday was undoubtedly Alfonso Soriano getting his bell rung by a pitch from Todd Wellemeyer: happily, no damage was done and he stayed in the game.

Of the players who have been healthy, Kosuke Fukudome has been easily the most productive, batting .371 with four homers and 15 RBI, and an OPS of 1.142. Even given the usual sample-size warnings, it's quite a startling turn-around, given that barely a month ago, his future in the majors was being openly questioned by Cubs fans, with opinions such as, "I fully expect him to be reassigned to AAA before the All-Star break... This looks like a $48M mistake." At this moment...not so much. Utility-man Micah Hoffpauir has also done well with the bat [.360/.393/.680] in limited playing time, though his presence in right-field has sometimes been an adventure for the Wrigley faithful.

It's been the pitching which has kept the team on track, with Aaron Heilman proving a read stud in the bullpen - the only damage he has allowed in eleven innings of work was a solo shot to Hippy Anime Character a.k.a. Khalil Greene. Marmol has also been solid, but as noted above, may or may not be fit enough to see use in the next three days. Among the starters, Ted Lilly has been outstanding, giving up five earned runs in three games, and all of those came in his first start - since then, it's been 13.2 scoreless innings, including one-hitting the Colorado Under-rateds for almost seven frames. Ace Carlos Zambrano has been less ace-like than you'd expect (4.85 ERA in four starts) and only the Phillies' staff have given up more homers than the Cubs 24 long-balls.

It will be the usual scenario at Chase Field for the next three days, which is exactly why I won't be going anywhere nearer the place than absolutely necessary [since I work two blocks East, my options there are limited]. For by 'usual scenario,' I mean jacked-up parking prices, security pat-downs on admission, a constant stream of fans going in and out of your row on beer runs, and horrendous queues at the concession stands. This is of course, in addition to the game of Chicago Roulette: will the Cubs fans in your area be the friendly, knowledgeable types, or the drunken boors looking to pick a fight? I've experienced both: few are better than the former, but none are worse than the latter. Thank heavens for Fox Sports AZ in high-definition...