CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo says the Chicago Cubs will be ready to roll when the season's second half begins on Friday in the opener of a three-game series with the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs ended a 6-15 pre-break skid with last Sundays 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Was it a slump possibly of their own making?
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Rizzo seemed to suggest that the Cubs may have eased up a bit after rolling to a 25-6 start and double-digit game leads over their closest Central Division competitors.
“You build a big lead, and I don't want to say we were coasting, but I guess we were,” the Cubs first baseman told reporters during All-Star Game festivities this week. “You can't be good all the time in this game. It's impossible. We'll be ready for the second half.”
Chicago outfielder Dexter Fowler echoed Rizzo's expectations for a second-half start.
“I think the break was good, I think we'll come back recharged, hopefully,” Fowler told reporters. “And I think we're in for a long, long season.”
Fowler, a catalyst for the Cubs fast start, opens the second half still on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain and no projected return date.
Rizzo's assessment might be an overstatement because the Cubs' slump could also be attributed to a series of injuries, fatigue through a stretch playing 24 consecutive games and the end of a run of exceptional pitching especially by reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta that would be hard to perpetually sustain.
Chicago (53-35) starts the second half with a seven-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and a six-game homestand with two challenging series.
AL West-leading Texas (54-36) brings that league's best record into a three-game weekend series. That's followed by a three-game set with the New York Mets next week, a team that humbled the Cubs with a four-game sweep prior to the break.
Chicago owns the National League's best home record (26-14) and are facing a team that knows about slumps.
Texas owns a 5 1/2 game lead over the Houston Astros and has dropped seven of its last nine heading into the All-Star break while Chicago had lost five straight before beating the Pirates.
Texas entered the break with the rotation having a 10.50 ERA over the final nine games as Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis are on the disabled list.
“It's obviously a challenge,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “We go as our starters go. When we get quality starts, it's proven, has been all year long that when we get quality starts our offense gives us an opportunity to win baseball game.”
Texas sends left-hander Martin Perez (7-5, 3.85 ERA) against Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (7-6, 2.55 ERA) in the series opener.
Hendricks needs one win to match a career-high. He's 5-1 with a 1.97 ERA at home. Perez is coming off a rough start again the Red Sox on July 5, allowing 11 runs (seven earned) over four innings in an 11-6 loss.
Neither starter has ever faced the opposing team.
Darvish (2-0, 2.87 ERA in three starts) is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday and start against Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel (7-5, 3.46 ERA).
Darvish had been on the disabled list since June 13 and has made two rehab starts. He also opened the season on the disabled list while recovering from 2015 Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Chicago and Texas have met only 12 times since interleague play began in 1997 and have six wins apiece.
The Cubs took two of three in the most recent meeting in 2013 at Wrigley Field with two games played in cool April conditions and an early May makeup of a rainout.
The Cubs play 24 of their next 32 games at home and two series will be strictly by bus including two against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field and three at Milwaukee. Chicago also has a three-game trip to Oakland (Aug. 5-7).
The Rangers are on a 10-day, nine game road trip that also takes them to Anaheim and Kansas City before hosting the Athletics July 25-27.