Right around this time of year in the Chicago area, Chicago Cubs fans are reminded by White Sox fans what they jokingly like to tell people CUBS stands for. Completely Useless By September. But for two years in a row, the Cubs not only aren't completely useless, they are right in the thick of things when it comes to playoff talks and World Series chances. Meanwhile, it seems like the White Sox are slowly starting to buckle as the season wears on.
As of today, September 1st, the Cubs magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 12. A combination of 12 wins or 12 Philadelphia losses will give the Cubs at least the wildcard berth. But obviously, that's not where the Cubs want to be. At 85-52, they have the best record in baseball and continuing to play that way will allow them to have homefield advantage through the National league playoffs. And with a 51-21 record at Wrigley, home is exactly where they want to be. As of late, they have played better on the road and are currently over .500 away from Wrigley, but the team seems to hit and pitch better at home. Of course, it wouldn't be the Cubs if something wasn't a bit amiss.
Carlos Zambrano was pushed back from his scheduled start yesterday to give him some extra rest between starts. While not injured and not hurting, the tired arm is a bit of a concern. Especially since he was placed on the disabled list for a couple weeks earlier in the season and despite being placed on the DL, is 6th in the majors in Pitchers Abuse Points. And while PAP isn't a measurement of who will be hurt, usually pitchers who are high on the list have a tendency to break down a bit. In 2003, Kerry Wood was 2 and Mark Prior was 4 and they were never the same since. Of course, #1 this season is CC Sabathia, so buyer beware. A 3 game set in Houston kicks off the month of September for the Cubs and a matchup with Roy Oswalt. And while Houston isn't towards the top of the division, they are playing above .500 ball and aren't going to lay down for the Cubs. September is going to be a tough stretch for the Cubs but if they can pull through it well, it'll only help them come October.
The Southsiders limp into September 5-5 in their last 10 game after losing 3 of the past 4. They head into September a half game up on the Twins for the division and 2 games behind Boston for the Wildcard. And they have a tough stretch ahead of them. It starts with tonight with them taking on Cliff Lee and the Cleveland Indians. Lee headed into the season unsure if he would even make the team and has done nothing but prove the Cleveland Indians front office right, by going 19-2 with a 2.43 ERA through the first5 months of the season and right now is the the favorite to win the Al CY Young award. Unfortunately, for Lee, he plays on a team that is performing well under expectations and might get passed over for the award in favor of Francisco Rodriquez of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who is 5 saves away from breaking the major league record for saves in a season.
And after this series with the Indians, it really doesn't get any easier for the Sox. They come home to play a 3-game set with the Angels this weekend in the beginning of a 10-game homestand, with series' against Toronto and Detroit to follow. But then it's 10 on the road to pretty much decide if they are going to win the division or fall out of the race entirely. They play 4 games in New York against the Yankees who might still be fighting for their playoff lives, travel to Kansas City to play the last place Royals and then head to Minnesota to battle the Twins for the division title, if it's not already wrapped up by then. And since the White Sox are going to be throwing junk out there every 5th day in the form of Clayton Richard or whatever else they can scrap together from the minors since Kenny Williams didn't go out and land Jarrod Washburn or any other pitcher who was available after Jose Contreras went down, I expect Minnesota to have the division wrapped up before the White Sox even show up in the Homer Dome.