The Week Ahead: Cubs, Brewers, Astros

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This should be interesting. The Rangers are already in Chicago, where they will begin a 10-day, nine-game, four-city road trip with a makeup game Monday against the Cubs. As Rangers radio play-by-play voice Eric Nadel duly noted, they'll play in four different cities in eight days.

It's Tuesday and Wednesday against old American League foe Milwaukee, a day off Thursday in Houston, then three games against their new American League rivals, the Astros, over the weekend. Then it's next Monday-Wednesday at the Rangers' closest pursuer in the AL West, the Oakland Athletics. The last time the Rangers were there they lost three straight games to lose the division title.

Here's how the first week of the road trip shapes up:

Wait 'til next year: The Cubs are slumping, losers of four straight after a three-game sweep at the hands of Cincinnati. The Cubs can't hold a lead and they can't win a close game. At 11-20, the Cubs have lost nine games in which they led at some point. After Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Reds, the Cubs have seen 26 of their 31 games decided by three runs or less. They are 9-17 in those games. The Cubs never led Sunday, but were within two runs going into the eighth inning.

Russell raises value: Cubs left-handed reliever James Russell, the son of Jeff Russell -- No. 2 on the Rangers' all-time saves and games pitched in list -- is off to a perfect start. James Russell, a product of Colleyville Heritage, Navarro College and the Texas Longhorns, has tossed 12 1/3 scoreless innings to begin the season. He had 11 scoreless innings in April, the first Cubs reliever with at least 10 innings pitched to go the season's first month without allowing a run since 1969. With the Cubs struggling, the 27-year Russell's trade value should be high on or before the July 31 trade deadline.

Soriano moves up: Former Ranger Alfonso Soriano, playing the outfield for the Cubs, belted two home runs Saturday, giving him 375 for his career, making him the 70th player in major league history to reach that mark. His next home run will tie him with Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk for 69th on the all-time list. Soriano hit 64 homers in two seasons with the Rangers in 2004-05.

Brewers slumping, too: The Rangers will move from a Cubs team with a four-game losing streak to a Brewers team that has lost five straight games. The Brewers aren't getting any pitching. Milwaukee has allowed at least six runs in each game during the losing streak. Tuesday's starter Willy Peralta comes off of his worst start of the season, allowing six runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings against the Cardinals. The Brewers did get third baseman Aramis Ramirez back off the 15-day disabled list this weekend. He is 2-for-6 since his return from a sprained left knee.

Then there's the Astros: Oh, the Astros. Does anyone ever wonder what would have happened had the Rangers ended up with Jim Crane as their owner instead of Bob Simpson and Ray Davis? Try not to imagine it. The Astros are 8-24 and are on pace to lose a major league record 122 games. Somewhere the 1962 Mets are breaking out the champagne. The Astros have lost 10 of their last 11 games, getting outscored 26-2 on Saturday and Sunday by Detroit. Tigers ace Justin Verlander had a no-hitter in the seventh inning. Yu Darvish, who pitches Saturday night, was an out away from a perfect game against the Astros on April 2. Fortunately because of Crane's Comcast debacle, no one in Houston can see the games. Maybe he planned it this way. Minute Maid Park should be packed with Rangers fans this weekend.