Things won't get any easier for Cubs

CHICAGO -- As if the Chicago Cubs needed any more reminders that their upcoming road trip to Philadelphia and Cincinnati will be a tough one, they open the journey Friday night against Roy Halladay.

As of Thursday, the Cubs were 11th in the 16-team National League in batting average at .235, and were 15th in slugging percentage at .333, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates (.325).

Halladay, meanwhile, will enter Friday’s game with a 3-1 record and a 1.50 ERA, and he has yet to give up a home run in 30 innings this season. The Phillies will go with right-hander Joe Blanton to start Saturday night, but they have yet to announce who will pitch in the final two games.

“The pitching, I think they have a 2.70 ERA as a team, so it will be tough to score runs and put things together,” manager Dale Sveum said. “That’s why they have one of the best pitching staffs over the last few years. It will be tough. Hopefully getting into a more hitters’ park we can hit some home runs. You have to do that against those kind of pitchers because it’s hard to string hits together. They don’t walk people either.”

The challenge is clear for the Cubs starter on Friday night, left-hander Paul Maholm, who still has some positives in his favor. The Phillies have scored just 63 runs this season, three less than the Cubs, and their on-base percentage of .294 is next to last to the Pirates’ .269 mark.

One more positive or the Cubs is that they won’t have to face left-hander Cole Hamels in the four-game series that concludes Monday night. The Cubs are at their best with a left-handed hitting attack that includes Bryan LaHair, Tony Campana, and possibly even Steve Clevenger on occasion at catcher.

Clevenger has made just five starts and has only 22 at-bats, but still leads the club with five doubles and starting pitchers have a 1.88 ERA when he starts, compared to a 5.29 ERA when he doesn’t.

When the Cubs get to Cincinnati on Tuesday, those left-handed hitters can be neutralized by a Reds bullpen that includes lefties Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall.

More challenges await after the road trip, though, as the resurgent Dodgers come to Wrigley Field for a three-game series May 4-6, followed by the Atlanta Braves for three games May 7-9. The Cubs then travel to Milwaukee (May 11-13) and St. Louis (May 14-15) before the Phillies and White Sox come to Wrigley Field.

“We knew going in that the first six weeks, as far as the teams we were going to play and the schedule, the pitching we were going to face, was going to be a really tough stretch of games,” Sveum said. “Scoring runs was going to be tough and holding the other teams down. But that’s baseball. Every team’s good.

“Every team has more pitching than it did before and you see that by the runs are down in Major League Baseball. Every team’s good so you take every game as if you’re playing the world champions every day. You put your guard down and you find yourself in a lot of trouble.”