Cubs are facing a series they pretty much have to win against Detroit

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

It’s been a decade since the Detroit Tigers were relevant in any way, shape or form. Even with a burgeoning crop of young talent on the scene now, they’re a team that still doesn’t feel like they’re close to coming out of a painfully long rebuild. And that’s who the Chicago Cubs will square off against this weekend in a three-game set that kicks off Friday night.

Detroit enters Friday in fourth place in the American League Central at 13-24 with a -64 run differential, the worst mark in all of Major League Baseball by a 20-run margin. Their .641 OPS ranks 29th in baseball and a team ERA of 4.96 on the year bests only two teams: the Rockies and the Angels.

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Meanwhile, the Cubs are treading water, desperately just trying to hang around the .500 mark as we head into the back half of May. At 17-19, Chicago is already five games out in the division race and 2 1/2 out of a Wild Card spot. The team hasn’t had any real momentum – either offensively or with the pitching, especially the rotation – which has been one of the most ineffective in the game to this point.

All that being said, if this group is going to avoid being part of a top-to-bottom fire sale this summer, this weekend needs to bring out the best in them. Losing a series to a team like the Tigers would be all Jed Hoyer needs to see to start fielding calls on the likes of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Craig Kimbrel and anyone else with even an iota of trade value.

In typical David Ross fashion, the Cubs skipper managed to sift through the team’s sweep at the hands of the Indians this week in Cleveland and pull out a couple positives. But even he won’t be able to put a spin on a series loss to the Tigers, who have allowed the second-most runs in the American League this year.

"“The grit and determination and the fight,” Ross said, “and how these guys have approached really good pitching, while we’ve been short-handed, I’ve been impressed with to be honest with you.”"

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Chicago will look to get some key contributors back this weekend, starting with right-hander Jake Arrieta, who will take the ball on Friday night. The veteran had gotten off to a very strong start this year, but after pitching with a cut on his hand his last time out to less-than-stellar results, he hit the IL. Given the inconsistency of the rotation, a productive and healthy Arrieta is a key piece for the team.

On the offensive side of things, Nico Hoerner is likely to get back on the field against Detroit and Ian Happ could follow shortly thereafter. Kris Bryant isn’t expected to hit the shelf, either, after getting hit in the wrist by a pitch during a pinch-hit appearance on Wednesday. In other words, after the offense really struggled against the Indians, they should start getting some key guys back in the mix this weekend.

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It probably comes off as overdramatic to call a mid-May series a ‘must-win’ – but if the Cubs can’t handle their business against a team like Detroit, they have no business thinking about trying to run down the Cardinals in the NL Central – let alone dream of one last October run.