Red Sox-Cubs Preview

Theo Epstein left the Red Sox to join the Chicago Cubs in hopes

of replicating the success he had in Boston, where he delivered two

championships to a team steeped in history yet long without a World

Series title.

His new team, however, is on pace to set a franchise record for

losses, and his former club is hovering below .500 this late in a

season for the first time in a decade.

In this rare matchup between two of baseball’s most recognizable

franchises Friday at Wrigley Field, the Red Sox hope to get back to

the break-even mark while the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster looks to extend a

15-inning scoreless streak.

Epstein took over Chicago’s front office – and a major

rebuilding project – following Boston’s epic September collapse

last year, leading to a lengthy saga about what the Red Sox would

get as compensation. Boston also interviewed Dale Sveum twice for

its managerial opening before he was hired by the Cubs.

It just so happens the Red Sox (31-32) are now making their

first trip to Wrigley since 2005, when the then-defending World

Series champions dropped two of three. Boston, which won its second

title with Epstein as general manager in 2007, arrives on Chicago’s

North Side this time tied for last in the AL East.

A beleaguered rotation has been perhaps the biggest problem,

with Boston’s starters ranking 27th in the majors in ERA at 4.83.

The Red Sox, who are under .500 after May for the first time since

the final week of the 2001 season, are hopeful Daisuke Matsuzaka

(0-1, 7.20 ERA) can help strengthen the rotation, and he showed

some promise in his first start of the season.

Almost exactly one year after Tommy John surgery, Matsuzaka

allowed four runs and five hits in five innings of Saturday’s 4-2

loss to Washington. The right-hander, who has struggled mightily

with walks throughout his MLB career, issued one free pass while

striking out eight.

“Every time you pitch you want to give your team a chance to

win,” he said through an interpreter. “But I think I did leave some

positives for my next start.”

Facing a Chicago team that ranks 28th in the majors in runs

scored (233) and 27th in on-base percentage (.304) should also help

Matsuzaka’s confidence.

The Cubs (21-42) lost to Detroit 5-3 on Thursday for their 22nd

defeat in 28 games. They don’t have many intimidating bats in their

lineup aside from Alfonso Soriano, who is batting .359 with four

home runs and 10 RBIs during a 10-game hitting streak and leads the

majors with 12 homers since May 15.

Boston, meanwhile, is second in runs with 319, but was slumping

until pounding out 14 hits in Wednesday’s 10-2 win at Miami. The

Red Sox had plated 12 total runs while losing four of their

previous five.

“We need to score some runs,” said David Ortiz, who hit his 15th

homer Wednesday and had three RBIs. “We’ve been a little short

doing that. We needed that.”

Adrian Gonzalez chipped in with three hits to snap an 0-for-16

drought, and Scott Podsednik had two hits to bump his average to

.373 in 16 games. Each could be poised for another big game.

Gonzalez is batting .385 with five homers in his last seven

games at Wrigley, while Podsednik is 7 for 18 with a homer, a

triple and two doubles against Dempster (2-3, 2.31). Gonzalez is 2

for 14 lifetime against the right-hander, but both hits were

homers.

After going 18 straight starts without a victory, Dempster has

won his last two outings in impressive fashion. He may not be with

the Cubs much longer, however, with several teams in need of

pitching and Chicago on pace to post the worst record in the

history of a franchise that has not won the World Series since

1908.

His stock is also high considering he has yielded two runs or

fewer in eight of his 11 starts, allowing seven hits and a walk

over 15 scoreless innings in his last two.

The 35-year-old Dempster hasn’t made a start against Boston

since 2001, while with Florida.