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Series Twenty-Nine: Cubs at Marlins

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Despite being five games over .500, there's not much happiness in Marlin-land today. Expectations were for better results. As the team heads into the All-Star break, folks expected more than to be in third place. No one expected to see the Marlins well behind the Nationals.

But this is just how it is. Folks are generally disappointed in the Marlins right now. On Dan LeBatard's 790-AM radio show yesterday, one trade was suggested that everyone might like:

Offer Encarnacion to the Nationals for first place.

The Nats probably wouldn't take the deal, but it's a funny proposition.

I've digressed enough. Let's sit down with Sam Sianis's goat to talk about this weekend's series with the Cubs.

: Welcome back! Let's cut to the chase: while the Marlins haven't put together a long winning streak in awhile, they have managed to avoid aces in recent series. In New York they missed Pedro. Prior to that they missed Smoltz against the Braves. You get the idea. Will that same good fortune follow the Marlins into the Cubs series?

: Unfortunately for y'all, no. Tonight the Cubs will throw Carlos Zambrano, who's much better and more temperamental than Victor Zambrano, who you all saw live and in person last weekend. On Saturday the Cubs will start Kerry Wood, and Greg Maddux gets the start on Sunday.

: Gulp. This should make for an interesting weekend - especially since (after starting Willis tonight) the Marlins will roll out unproven Scott Olsen and aged Alois Leiter on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Adding intrigue to this matchup is that both the Cubs and Marlins need to win this series. They're jockeying for wild card position and want to establish themselves as "buyers" as the trade deadline approaches.

Switching gears a little, what can you tell us about Derrek Lee? Is it possible that the Marlins won't have to face their former friend this weekend?

: Actually, that's pretty likely. Lee might not even play in the All-Star game next week, which could free up a slot for Delgado. Lee had an MRI earlier this week which indicated that there is only "mild" inflammation in his shoulder. He could see some action this weekend and he could play in the All-Star game - Dusty Baker expects that he'll do the latter.

It will be interesting to see. This is Lee's first All-Star game, so I'm sure he'd really like to play in it. But at the same time he'll also want to do whatever he can to keep himself healthy so that he can contribute to the second half stretch run. Derrek knows that he is as critical to the Cubs' success as anyone.

: Speaking of the All-Star game, who do you think should get the start on the mound for the NL?

: That's a tough call. As a Cub, I'm automatically opposed to favoring anything related to the Cardinals, so I can't support Chris Carpenter's cause. You can make a great case for future Hall of Famer, and probably best of his era, Roger Clemens, but I'd give the nod to former Cub farmhand Dontrelle Willis. If only we had known what we were giving up on in trading Mr. Willis.

: I know you're a big stat-head and that you like to do a lot of research before the Cubs start a new series. Can you give us some interesting tidbits heading into this series?

: Sure, how about these? In the past seven days, former Marlin and current Cub Todd Hollandsworth is hitting .364 with a .727 slugging percentage (22 AB). Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee have also been hot.

Speaking of Lee and Ramirez, both were key players in the 2003 NLCS (but on opposite sides at the time). Ramirez is the only starting position player left from the Cubs 2003 NLCS lineup. On the other hand, the Marlins will start six of their eight everyday players from the same series. The only two that are missing are DLee and Rodriguez behind the plate.

Getting back to the stats, Juan Pierre is really the Marlin whose numbers jump out at you. JP has a .394 onbase percentage over the past week and six stolen bases (and he hasn't been caught). Those are the types of table-setting numbers that the Marlins are going to need to continue to see to really be in the race. Alex Gonzalez and Juan Encarnacion have also been quietly hot of late. I'd mention Luis Castillo in the same breath, but I think that everyone has pretty much agreed to stay silent about his stellar year.

: Thanks for your time, Mr. Goat. It's been a pleasure, as always. We'll get together again towards the end of August.