The Boston Red Sox will visit the Chicago Cubs and former General Manager Theo Epstein on Friday in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field. Epstein left the Red Sox (31-32), who he had helped transform into two-time World Series champions in 2004 and 2007, for a five-year deal worth $20 million in hopes of accomplishing a similar feat in the Windy City.
The Cubs (21-42) have not won a World Series since 1908, and they are currently enduring one of their worst seasons while going through a rebuilding phase under Epstein. Boston had not won a World Series title since 1918 before Epstein’s arrival, but he is facing a much bigger challenge in Chicago.
One of the key players who could be a building block for the future of the Cubs is pitcher Jeff Samardzija (5-4, 3.96 ERA), who may be a future ace if he continues to progress as a starter. Samardzija is in the starting rotation on a regular basis for the first time in his five-year career, and he has performed well for the most part as one of just two Chicago pitchers with a winning record.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound former Notre Dame wide receiver is 3-1 in five starts at Wrigley with a stellar 1.96 ERA. However, Samardzija has only pitched there once since May 18, earning a win over the San Diego Padres on May 29 after giving up three runs and eight hits in seven innings with one walk and eight strikeouts. He is winless in his last two outings though, surrendering 10 runs and 16 hits in 8.2 innings of two road losses to the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants.
One of Epstein’s Boston busts will oppose Samardzija when Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-1, 7.20) takes the mound for only the second time this season. Matsuzaka came off the Disabled List after suffering from a neck injury and threw 80 pitches against the Washington Nationals, giving up four runs and five hits in five innings of a 4-2 loss while walking one and striking out eight.
Epstein had the Red Sox pay in excess of $51 million for the negotiating rights to sign Dice-K, who has struggled to live up to the hype and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011. He was 33-15 in his first two years in Boston and played an important role on the 2007 World Series championship team, but since then he has gone a combined 16-16 in four seasons.
Free MLB Pick: Chicago Cubs -101