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Sunday, May 22, 2011
Cubs try to stay offensive vs Red Sox


The Chicago Cubs used an eight-run eighth inning Saturday to beat the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park for the first time since 1918. It only seems that their offense has been struggling just as long. They look for more of the same in the series finale Sunday night (ESPN, 8 ET).

The Cubs are second in the majors in batting average (.279) -- helping them rank fourth in on-base percentage (.336) -- but are just 15th in runs scored. That's because they don't do anything to advance runners or drive them in. They're last in baseball in walks and next-to-last in stolen bases, tied for 22nd in home runs and only 17th in hitting with runners in scoring position.

The Cubs' pitching hasn't been much better, ranking in the bottom three of the National League this season in ERA, starters' ERA, opponents' BA and walks allowed.

Tim Wakefield starts for the Red Sox on Sunday, and he could be the answer to the Cubs' woes. Opponents are hitting .345 against him this season with runners in scoring position, the highest among the nine Boston pitchers who have 25 such at-bats.

Carlos Pena could be a beneficiary as well -- he's just a .216 career hitter against Wakefield in the regular season, but in the past two seasons, has reached base in six of nine plate appearances against the knuckleballer.

Pena has been hot this month after another slow start. He has five home runs in May after hitting none in April and is striking out at a much lower rate.

Cubs starter James Russell will have to continue his good work against lefties -- especially the first time through the order -- to give his team a chance. As a starter, batters facing him the first time in a game are 15-for-35 (.429), but just 6-for-27 (.222) the second time around.

His righty-lefty splits are huge: right-handed batters are hitting more than 200 points higher against him and he's walked just one lefty all season.

Perhaps worst of all for Russell, making his fifth career start, is that he's been far better as a reliever this year than as a starter. In nine appearances (8 ⅔ innings) in relief, he has yet to allow a run.

2011 as starter: 0-4, 10.05 ERA, .368 opp BA
2011 as reliever: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, .172 opp BA

The Sox power hitters could be in business Sunday night, as Russell has allowed 17 home runs in 72 career innings pitched. That translates to 47 home runs in a 200-inning season.

-- Mark Simon, David Bearman and Katie Sharp contributed to this report.