When Justin Verlander takes the ball against an NL team that is unaccustomed to facing the four-time All Star, the results typically aren't pretty for the Senior Circuit squad.
This is the difficult task the offensively challenged Chicago Cubs have Thursday afternoon when Verlander goes for the Detroit Tigers in the series finale at Wrigley Field.
After a pair of uncharacteristically subpar outings in which he yielded five runs in each, Verlander (5-4, 2.69 ERA) appeared to regain some of his Cy Young Award-winning form Saturday in Cincinnati. He allowed two runs and six hits while striking out nine in six innings of a 3-2 win, though didn't receive a decision.
Verlander's solid showing against the Reds shouldn't have come as a surprise considering his history against the NL.
The reigning AL MVP is 16-2 with a 2.76 ERA in 22 interleague games with the Tigers (29-33) winning 18 - including the last six. In five starts versus the NL since the start of last season, he is 4-0 with a 0.92 ERA and 46 strikeouts over 39 innings. This obviously includes his start against Pittsburgh on May 18, when he came within two outs of throwing his third career no-hitter.
While the Pirates - a team that ranks last in the majors in several offensive categories - didn't seem to stand a chance against Verlander, the Cubs could find themselves in a similar position. Chicago (21-41) is tied for 26th in runs scored with 230, is 27th in on-base percentage at .305 and No. 3 hitter David DeJesus is batting .143 in the last nine contests.
The Cubs, who fired hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo on Tuesday, have enjoyed some offensive success in their last three games combining for 16 runs and 27 hits in games started by Detroit's Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer and Minnesota's Francisco Liriano. Each of those pitchers has an ERA of at least 5.18, however, nearly twice that of Verlander.
Verlander's only outing against Chicago came in his first interleague start at Wrigley Field on June 17, 2006. He allowed a run, nine hits and three walks in 5 2-3 innings of a 9-3 victory.
The Tigers dropped Tuesday's opener at Wrigley 4-3 as Jhonny Peralta made two costly throwing errors in the eighth inning leading to the decisive run. The shortstop rebounded nicely Wednesday, going 3 for 5 with a triple, double and two RBIs in an 8-4 victory to help Detroit move within five games of the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox.
Brennan Boesch had a solo homer among his season-high four hits and is batting .545 with two home runs, two doubles and five RBIs during a six-game hitting streak. The Tigers have won four of those contests and have a chance at an encouraging 4-2 interleague road trip for a club that has underachieved so far this year.
"(Thursday's) a big game for us,'' Jim Leyland said, "because you go to Cincinnati and Chicago and you've got a chance to win both series. That's pretty good. You've got to try to win each series. If you can do that, then you put yourself back in decent shape.''
The Cubs, meanwhile, have six victories in their last 27 games, and scheduled starter Travis Wood (0-2, 4.71) is winless in his last eight starts dating back to last season.
Against Minnesota on Friday, Wood allowed three runs, six hits and three walks in five innings of an 8-7, 10-inning loss. The left-hander, who has never faced Detroit, is 0-1 with a 5.71 ERA in three career starts versus the AL.
Prince Fielder, who is 2 for 8 in this series, is 4 for 10 lifetime against Wood.