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5:05 PM PT6:05 PM MT7:05 PM CT8:05 PM ET20:05 ET0:05 GMT8:05 5:05 PM MST7:05 PM EST7:35 PM VEN4:05 UAE (+1)7:05 PM CT, May 6, 2019
Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois  Attendance: 34,555

Marlins up next for red-hot Cubs

The Chicago Cubs, who surged past the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League Central with a 13-2 head-to-head victory on Sunday night, may have an easier task up next.

Chicago will play host to the Miami Marlins -- who have the worst record (9-24) in the majors -- for four games, starting with Monday's matchup.

Perhaps the top player to watch in the series is Cubs shortstop Javier Baez, who led the NL with 111 RBIs last season. He also became the first Cubs player ever to have a season with at least 20 steals, 30 homers and 40 doubles.

"He's one of the best players in the game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's hard to argue against the ascension he has made."

Baez is a big reason why the Cubs are the hottest team in the majors, with seven straight wins. He is batting .316 with 10 doubles, one triple, 11 homers, 29 runs scored and 26 RBIs.

Baez, just 26 years old, was a first-time All-Star last year, and there appears to be room for even more growth in his game as he gets stronger.

"I had a great year last season, but in the second half, I felt a little tired," Baez said.

He seems fresh this season, as his OPS has risen from .881 in his career year of 2018 to 1.004 this season.

Baez is still prone to chasing pitches and doesn't walk much. But he plays with tons of energy and makes spectacular fielding plays look routine.

On Monday, he and his Cubs teammates will face Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara (1-3, 4.86 ERA). Alcantara will be making his first career start in Wrigley Field, although he did pitch one scoreless inning there in 2017 when he was with the Cardinals.

Overall, Alcantara has made three appearances against the Cubs, including one start, posting an 0-1 record and a 5.87 ERA. That one start -- and the loss -- came this year, as Alcantara allowed five runs in six innings against the Cubs on April 17. He struck out seven and walked one in that game, producing a season-high 18 swings-and-misses.

"We need him to continue to be aggressive," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Alcantara, a 23-year-old who is one of the hardest throwers in the majors with an average fastball of 95.5 mph. "Sometimes he tends to aim and be more passive. We want him to attack hitters."

Another thing to watch for with Alcantara is how he performs in the third inning. Of the 18 runs he has allowed this year, 12 of them have been given up in the third inning.

Alcantara's counterpart on Monday will be left-hander Cole Hamels, who also faced him in that April 17 game won by the Cubs, 6-0. Hamels pitched seven scoreless innings in that contest, holding Miami to three hits and no walks, striking out eight.

Hamels is 3-0 with a 3.19 ERA this season, and 11-15 with a 3.36 ERA in 39 career starts against the Marlins. He also has a 1.80 ERA in 14 career starts at Wrigley.

A four-time All-Star and the MVP of the 2008 NLCS and 2008 World Series, Hamels, 35, has resurrected his career by rediscovering his fastball. Still, Miami may have a chance to barrel him up some -- he gave up the highest percentage of hard-hit balls (41.9) in the majors last year.

--Field Level Media

Updated May 6, 2019

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