After Brewers tried and failed, Cardinals take their crack at the Cubs

Updated: August 7, 2008

Tom Fluegge/US Presswire

Carlos Zambrano takes an eight-game winning streak against the Cardinals into this weekend's matchup.

WEEKEND PREVIEW

The pennant races are really heating up, and this weekend boasts a handful of meaningful series.

"SUNDAY NIGHT BASEBALL"

Cardinals at Cubs, 8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN

Tops among them is the Cardinals visiting Wrigley Field to play the Cubs, a series which will conclude on "Sunday Night Baseball." Also, the Marlins and Mets will duel at Shea Stadium, with the winner of the that series claiming second place in the NL East at worst, and at best grabbing hold of the division lead.

The American League schedule also features two series of note. The Red Sox head to Chicago to play the White Sox, and the Yankees go to Anaheim to face the imposing Angels. Both series are potential playoff previews.

Best series

Cardinals at Cubs

This series basically represents a last-gasp hope for the Cardinals as far as the division title is concerned. To gain ground--significant ground--they'll also have to beat Carlos Zambrano on Saturday. The Cubs' ace has an eight-game winning streak against the Cardinals, the longest by a Cubs pitcher in nearly 90 years.

Carlos Zambrano vs. Cardinals, since 2005
W-L 8-0
ERA 1.37
IP-H 79-59

Best pitching matchup

Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka) at White Sox (Jose Contreras), Saturday 7:05 p.m. ET

Jose Contreras returns from the disabled list and makes his first start since July 13. He'll do so against the team that has caused him the most trouble in his career. In nine career starts against the Red Sox, Contreras is 3-5 with a 9.12 ERA. He will be opposed by Daisuke Matsuzaka. While walks continue to be an issue for Matsuzaka--he has allowed 23 walks in his last 41 2/3 innings--he's fought through them, managing a 4-1 record with a 2.38 ERA in his last seven starts.

Best of the rest

Phillies slugger Ryan Howard has unbelievably bad numbers against the Pirates, whom he'll face this weekend. Howard is a .114 career hitter against Pittsburgh, with 34 strikeouts in 70 at-bats. He'll start the weekend against Paul Maholm, and hopefully for him, start the process of changing his fortunes against the Pirates.

Worst batting average vs. Pirates in expansion Era (since '61), with minimum 70 PA
Chris Short (pitcher) .046
Dennis Martinez (pitcher) .103
Steve Rogers (pitcher) .105
Kevin Gross (pitcher) .113
Dave Roberts (pitcher) .114
Ryan Howard .114
- The next position player: Bobby Klaus, .118

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Aug. 6 | Aug. 5 | Aug. 4 | Aug. 3 | July 31 | July 30

RANGERS COULD MAKE BIG MOVE

I think it's probably time we start noticing the Texas Rangers. Because if the Yankees are in the race for the playoffs, then so are the Rangers. The one thing to keep in mind during this waiver period is the team with the lesser record gets first crack at any players on waivers. The Yankees need starting pitching; so do the Rangers. Therefore, the Rangers could use their position in the standings as an advantage in improving their team or, at the very least, they could use it to prevent the Yankees from improving their team.

So, if Cleveland's Paul Byrd and/or Seattle's Jarrod Washburn start to go through waivers, the Rangers would get awarded a claim before the Yankees would. Texas could make a couple of deals that could dramatically improve its starting pitching and, along with what is the best offense in the American League, use that improved pitching to make a legitimate run in the AL.

The Rangers ran a rookie, Tommy Hunter, out there Wednesday, and they've had guys like Eric Hurley and Luis Mendoza start games this season. Texas seems to be running different guys out there each night. Their need is primarily starting pitching, but they could use bullpen help as well. Their closer, C.J. Wilson, just went on the disabled list. If you're a general manager there is still time to help your team during the waiver period--either through a waiver acquisition or by using waiver claims to block other teams.

In this era of parity, a team can contend even if it only does one thing extraordinarily well. Look at Minnesota: the Twins have the best batting average with runners in scoring position in the past 40 years. The Florida Marlins are leading baseball in home runs, which is keeping them in the race despite a starters ERA over 5.00. So when you look at Texas, with guys like Josh Hamilton, Milton Bradley and Ian Kinsler, it's obvious that the Rangers' offense is very special and that it's the thing keeping them in the race right now. In other years, a team that just had great hitting and poor pitching would never really be in the race. But the parity has kind of leveled the field, and if there is something really special about you, it can keep you in the race.

For the Rangers to make the playoffs, they'd presumably have to beat out the Red Sox, Yankees and Twins. I think the Red Sox are a lesser team after dealing Manny Ramirez, but they still are a good team. They've got bullpen issues that they need to resolve, but Jason Bay seems like he is off to a good start. He seems to be dealing well with the pressures that players face with a new team. But it'll be interesting to see how that continues to play out. Now, I don't expect the Red Sox to completely falter, but if you are looking for one team that could make a run, and that could even improve itself through waivers because of its position in the standings, it's the Rangers. They've got more money to spend than the Twins, so the Twins can't really put a claim on Washburn and run the risk of his contract getting dumped on them, especially when pitching is not as much of an issue for them.

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ANOTHER CG FOR CC

THURSDAY'S NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES

GOOD
Mike MussinaMike Mussina scattered eight hits in seven innings against the Rangers, and did not allow a run as the Yankees picked up a 3-0 road win.
BAD
Jeff Karstens• The Mets bullpen cost Johan Santana a shot at another win, giving up a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth (the Mets would win on David Wright's 2-run, walkoff homer in the next half-inning). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the sixth time the Mets bullpen blew a possible win for Santana.
UGLY
• The Phillies were beaten, 3-0, by the Marlins. It was the seventh time this season the Phillies have been shut out. They were shut out six times over the two previous seasons combined.

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF FRIDAY'S GAMES

Tristan Cockcroft examines the pitching matchups in store for the 15 games on Friday's schedule.

Tristan also looks at current injuries and details player reports that could help shape the way you put together your roster for Friday's games. Daily Notes

THIS DATE IN MLB HISTORY (AUGUST 8)

1988: In the first scheduled night game ever at Wrigley Field, the Cubs played host to the Phillies. The game never became official because it was rained out in the third inning.

1998: At age 41, the Twins' Paul Molitor became the fifth player in major league history to have at least 3,000 hits and 500 steals. His 5-for-5 performance and his 500th stolen base got him into company with Ty Cobb (4,191 hits, 892 steals), Honus Wagner (3,415, 722), Eddie Collins (3,315, 744) and Lou Brock (3,023, 938) as the only players to accomplish this milestone.

FRED LEWIS: AFTER THE STORM