It seems that Cubs bloggers have been saying that every series is big since about mid-June.  This series against the Brewers actually is big.  Huge.  A Cubs sweep would all but eliminate the Brew Crew; a Brewers sweep could push the Cubs back into third place.  The good news, I guess, is that even losing two of three would leave the Cubs in first (though perhaps in a tie with the Cards), so it’s not essential to win the series.  It is essential to avoid a sweep, though, and I believe the Cubs are in good shape to do that.  Why?  They have their three best starters going.

Tonight’s game pits Rich Hill against Jeff Suppan.  Hill has faced the Brewers three times already this year.  He dominated them in his first start of the season, then pitched two pretty bad games against them on April 24th and June 29th.  Kevin freaking Mench kills him, and Prince Fielder has done pretty well, too.  Ryan Braun only has two at-bats against Hill, and he’s struck out and singled.  Hill doesn’t give up a lot of base hits, but he is susceptible to the long ball, making the homer-happy Brewers a terrible match-up for him.  I’m almost certain he’ll give up at least one homer tonight; the key will be making sure that no one’s on base when it happens.  His April 6th start is a good template for the best-case scenario tonight: Hill went seven innings, giving up just one solo homer, walking no one, and striking out six.  Suppan, for his part, has started twice against the Cubs this year.  He beat Hill on April 24th and got beat around by the Cubs in Milwaukee on June 6th.  In his career, Suppan has struggled against Jacque Jones, Derrek Lee, and Felix Pie, but he’s handled most of the other Cubs pretty well.  I hope Pie gets the start in center tonight, especially since Soriano might not be running all that well.  It’s hard to predict the outcome of this game since Hill’s success depends so greatly on whether or not he can keep the Brewers in the park.  The wind could be a huge factor.  I’m going to predict a Brewers win, but it could easily go either way.

Given that Ben Sheets’ status is up in the air, it’s impossible to analyze the pitching matchups in the final two games in the series.  I know it might sound crazy, but I won’t be all that upset if Sheets does make a start rather than Claudio Vargas.  There will undoubtedly be some rust as he hasn’t made a start since July 14th, and the Cubs have handled him pretty well even at full strength this year.  Then again, they’ve killed Vargas.

The key to this series, as far as I’m concerned, is Z.  Will he throw another stinker, or will he return to his July form?  If he does the latter, I don’t see the Cubs losing to the Brewers in that second game regardless of who starts for the Brew Crew.  I think the odds are good that the Cubs win one of the other two games and take the series.  If Z throws a stinker, though, I think the Cubs lose the series.

This is a summary of the extremely lame prediction I’ve made: the Cubs will win one of the outer games of the series, and the second game will be decided by whether Z is “good Z” or “bad Z.”   Let’s hope it’s the former.

I think that the lineup tonight, given the Cubs’ history against Suppan, should be:

Soriano LF

Theriot SS

Lee 1B

Ramirez 3B

Jones RF

Pie CF

DeRosa 2B

Kendall C

Hill P

I just hope that Pie and Jones are in CF and RF.