CHICAGO — For the first time in a month, the Chicago Cubs will play after an off-day as they head into the stretch run of what they hope leads to their third straight National League Central Division title.
With their magic number at eight to clinch, the Cubs begin a three-game series against their crosstown rival Chicago White Sox on Friday fresh off a difficult slate during which they played 29 games in 30 days. Over that time, the Cubs won 18 of the 29 games and will return to action after catching their breath Thursday. They will attempt to use this weekend’s three-game set at Guaranteed Rate Field to hold off the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.
As much as his team may be fatigued, manager Joe Maddon liked how the Cubs closed off the long string of games. Despite a 9-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, the Cubs enter Friday’s game having won five of their last seven games, which closed out a successful stretch that Maddon was pleased with overall.
“That’s a pretty good stretch right there,” Maddon told reporters Wednesday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “What was it? Eighteen and 11 during that stretch, something like that? Sign me up … We’ll take that every day of the week.
“I’m really pleased and happy and proud how the guys have handled this.”
Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs on Friday as he faces his former team. Quintana (13-10, 3.95 ERA) had gone five starts without a loss before he suffered a setback in his last outing, when he allowed two runs over five innings against the Cincinnati Reds and struck out seven.
Quintana, who spent 5 1/2 seasons with the White Sox before joining the Cubs at midseason last year, will start against the White Sox for the first time.
The White Sox will face the Cubs following an extra-inning 5-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Thursday. That snapped a three-game losing streak as Matt Davidson delivered a 10th-inning RBI single.
The White Sox dropped two of three games against the Cubs in May, but with some success this weekend, the White Sox could provide some assistance to the Brewers in their attempt to chase down the Cubs.
The White Sox could get first baseman Jose Abreu back after he missed the three-game series against the Indians when he was hospitalized with an ingrown hair infection in his right thigh. Abreu has also been sidelined recently for three weeks following testicular torsion surgery. Manager Rick Renteria didn’t rule Abreu out against the Cubs.
“Been a tough year (for Abreu),” Renteria told reporters this week. “He’s been dealing with it as best as he possibly can.”
Reynaldo Lopez will start the series for the White Sox. Lopez (6-9, 4.05 ERA) has won two of his previous four starts, including in his most recent outing when he threw seven scoreless innings against the Baltimore Orioles. Lopez has surrendered only one earned run in three September starts and will look to keep rolling Friday against the Cubs, who he will face for the first time in his career.
Renteria has been impressed with Lopez as he winds down his first full big-league season, which has included 175 2/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 2.85 ERA over his last nine starts.
“He’s showing you he’s got endurance, strength (and) he’s gaining understanding of the situation, how to work and manage the situations, which is really big,” Renteria told reporters after Lopez’s last start. “It speaks a lot for him because he continues to work and grind and learn.”