White Sox-Cubs preview

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs have featured one of the best lineups in baseball this season.

Lately, however, the Cubs have sputtered at the plate. The team has lost three of its past four games against right-handed starters Zach Davies, Junior Guerra, Miguel Gonzalez and James Shields.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon wants to see the slump come to a stop when his players welcome the Chicago White Sox to Wrigley Field on Wednesday night. The Cubs dropped the first two games of the annual crosstown battle Monday and Tuesday on the South Side before the series shifted north.

“I think they're taking advantage of our youth,” Maddon said of opposing pitchers after Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the White Sox. “Primarily, we have to not expand the strike zone. We've been expanding a little bit against these guys. We've got to keep them in the zone, and obviously when they make a mistake, it's got to be hit hard and kept fair. We have not done that. We fought back a couple games … but overall, the starting pitching the last four games has forced us out of our game plan.”

Despite a recent blip, the Cubs (59-40) possess the best record in the National League. A star-studded roster became even deeper this week as the team acquired left-handed closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees. Chapman joined the Cubs on Tuesday and could make his team debut at Wrigley Field.

Meanwhile, the White Sox (50-50) have climbed back to .500 thanks to a four-game winning streak that included three straight walk-off victories against the Detroit Tigers and Cubs. The White Sox won two of three games at Wrigley Field last season and are 27-25 all-time at the Friendly Confines.

Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel (9-5, 3.35 ERA) will look to win his third straight outing when he takes the mound against the White Sox. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound hurler is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts since the All-Star break. He is 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA in eight starts this season at Wrigley Field.

Hammel, 33, has not faced the White Sox as a member of the Cubs. He is 1-2 with a 4.01 ERA in nine games (four starts) against the South Siders, whom he last faced in 2013 with the Baltimore Orioles.

Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo (1-0, 17.18 ERA) is set to make his team debut with the White Sox. The 26-year-old opened the season with the Texas Rangers before he was traded to Chicago on May 12 for right-handed pitching prospect Matt Ball. The White Sox recalled him from Triple-A Charlotte on Sunday to fill the roster spot created by Chris Sale's five-day suspension for destroying team equipment.

Although Ranaudo always has tantalized scouts — then-Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein selected him in the supplemental first round (39th overall) in 2010 — he has yet to excel in the majors. Ranaudo is 5-4 with a 6.33 ERA in 13 career games (nine starts). In two relief appearances with Texas earlier this season, he allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings. He walked eight and struck out two.

At the plate, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has started to heat up after a slow start to the season. Abreu has reached base in 43 of his past 46 games. He is hitting .276 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs, but he has gone a career-high 26 consecutive games without going deep.

Abreu clubbed 36 home runs in 2014 and 30 home runs last season. This season, he is on pace to hit 17.

“You can see that there is probably some frustration with the homers and the expectations he puts on himself,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Right now, I think he's a lot better off at the plate just mechanically, mentally, all that stuff that goes into it. He's just a better hitter right now. You go through periods where you don't swing it very well, but right now he's in a pretty good spot.”