Theo Epstein may be a baby-faced executive, but has wits beyond his years and constructed a pair of World Series-winning teams with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007.
Epstein departed his post in Beantown after last season to become president of baseball operations for Chicago and is hoping to pull another rabbit out of the hat down the road for the title-starved Cubs much like he did with Boston.
The Red Sox will face their former general manager when they invade Wrigley Field this afternoon for the opener of a three-game interleague series with the Cubs. Both teams are last in their respective divisions, as the Red Sox sit in the basement of the American League East with a record one game below .500 at 31-32. Chicago is 14 1/2 games off the pace in the NL Central and 21 games below the .500 mark.
Boston won the final two installments of a three-game series at Miami and won the set with a 10-2 explosion on Wednesday. David Ortiz homered and finished with three RBI, Adrian Gonzalez went 3-for-5 with two RBI and Nick Punto added a pair of hits and drove in two runs for the Red Sox, who won for just the third time in 10 tries and had scored a total of 12 runs in the previous five games before the 10-run outburst.
A six-run eighth inning made a winner out of Red Sox starter Felix Doubront. He worked seven innings and allowed three hits and two runs while fanning nine. The left-hander held the Marlins hitless into the sixth inning.
"Felix was outstanding. He had all of his arsenal tonight," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "Explosive fastball, curveball was thrown for strikes early and late...that was just good pitching."
Red Sox left fielder Daniel Nava was not in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game because of a sore left hand and could return Friday. Infielder Kevin Youkilis was not in the lineup either after taking a pitch to his ribs from Marlins reliever Steve Cishek. Youkilis has been plagued by issues this season and the team is hoping he can play today.
The Red Sox, who are scheduled to return to Fenway Park for nine games after this set with the Cubs, will hand the ball to Daisuke Matsuzaka for his second start of the season. Dice K, of course, is coming off Tommy John surgery and will make his first career start at Wrigley Field. Matsuzaka made his 2012 debut in Saturday's 4-2 loss versus Washington and allowed all four runs and five hits in five innings. The right-hander struck out eight and walked one.
Matsuzaka has never faced the Cubs in his career and is one win away from 50 in his career (49-31).
Meanwhile, Chicago is having a horrible June and fell to 3-10 this month after a 5-3 loss versus Detroit on Thursday. It was Chicago's second straight loss and sixth in eight tries, as starting pitcher Travis Wood fell to 0-3 on the season after giving up three runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. Wood was outdueled by Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
"It was another battle for me out there today," Wood said. "I was able to keep it close and pitch out of a lot of jams. A guy like Verlander is a great pitcher even when he doesn't have his 'A' game."
Darwin Barney had two hits and an RBI for the Cubs, who lost two of three to the Tigers to open a six-game homestand and have dropped two in a row at home after ripping off four straight wins inside Wrigley Field. The Cubs are in a stretch of 15 of 18 games (1-2) in the Windy City.
Chicago is 2-7 in interleague play this season and was 5-10 against the American League in 2011. Alfonso Soriano had a hit and a run scored in the loss and owns 12 homers in his last 27 games dating back to May 15. He had belted at least one homer in each of Chicago's last nine series, coming up empty in all three games versus Detroit.
The Cubs activated catcher Welington Castillo (knee) from the DL on Thursday and designated Koyie Hill for assignment. Castillo hasn't played since May 18 and could start tonight. Steve Clevenger was behind the plate against Detroit and Geovany Soto is still recovering from knee surgery.
Ryan Dempster has been the subject of trade rumors lately and is scheduled to toe the rubber in Friday's series opener for the Cubs. Dempster has won consecutive starts and is aiming for his first three-game winning streak since last July 31-Aug. 11.
After he was hit for six runs in 4 1/3 innings of an 8-6 win over San Diego on May 30, Dempster has posted two straight scoreless starts. He threw seven shutout innings in a 10-0 pounding at Milwaukee on June 5, then worked eight scoreless frames in an 8-2 triumph at Minnesota on Sunday. The latest effort lifted his record to 2-3 in 11 starts and lowered his ERA to 2.31. Opponents are also batting just .206 against Dempster.
Dempster, a right-hander, is 0-2 in five home starts this season and hasn't tasted victory at Wrigley Field since last Aug. 11 versus Washington. In four games, three of which have been starts, against Boston, Dempster is 1-1 with a 7.13 earned run average.
The Cubs lost two of three matchups with Boston a year ago and haven't hosted the Red Sox since winning two of three meetings back in 2005.