Windy City Debut

Rich Harden makes his Cubs debut Saturday at Wrigley Field against the Giants, whom he dominated during his days with Oakland.

Despite numerous shoulder injuries and six trips to the disabled list over the last four years, the Chicago Cubs felt Rich Harden could be the pitcher to put them over the top in the NL playoff race.

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The San Francisco Giants would almost certainly agree wholeheartedly.

Harden makes his Cubs debut Saturday at Wrigley Field against the Giants, whom he dominated during his days with Oakland.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Chicago -240 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at this time. (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 75% of bets for this game have been placed on Chicago -240 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Chicago (56-37) acquired Harden on Tuesday, one day after NL Central rival Milwaukee traded for Cleveland ace CC Sabathia. Harden is one of baseball's best pitchers when he's healthy, but that hasn't been often - he made only 13 starts over the last two seasons and missed nearly six weeks early in 2008 because of a right shoulder strain.

"Obviously there's some risk involved. He's missed some time but he's never had any surgery,'' Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "We did extensive work with (Oakland's) doctors.''

Harden joins a rotation that features All-Stars Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, but Harden (5-1, 2.34 ERA) has a better ERA than both and would lead the majors in strikeouts per nine innings (10.8) if he had pitched enough innings to qualify.

"It'll take a few weeks to get really comfortable," Harden told the Cubs' official Web site after arriving in Chicago. "It's a huge change. It's so different from Oakland."

Harden's first opponent in an NL uniform, however, is a familiar one for him, as San Francisco (39-54) got more looks at the right-hander than any NL team during interleague play.

Of his nine starts against NL opponents, four have come against the Giants, and he's been nearly unhittable in those outings. Harden is 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA versus San Francisco, giving up five hits in 21 1-3 innings.

He gave up one hit over six innings with nine strikeouts in a 4-0 win over the Giants at AT&T Park on June 14.

"I don't know if we've seen better stuff this year," Giants' manager Bruce Bochy told the A's official Web site after that game.

Harden is 3-0 with a 0.68 ERA in four starts against the NL this season.

Pitching was the story at Wrigley Field on Friday, as San Francisco's Matt Cain and Chicago's Jason Marquis each pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three hits apiece. In the eighth, however, Aramis Ramirez hooked a three-run homer off Tyler Walker just inside the foul pole in left field, and the Cubs won the series opener 3-1 while handing the Giants their fifth straight loss.

"He always seems to come through in the clutch like that,'' shortstop Ryan Theriot said. "He's definitely the guy we want at the plate in that situation and he's proven time and time again, that's when he shines.''

Ramirez, who will make his second All-Star appearance Tuesday in New York, is hitting .421 with three homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games.

Ramirez and the Cubs will face Kevin Correia (1-5, 4.96) on Saturday. Like Harden, Correia missed time this season with an injury, spending six weeks on the DL with a strained left oblique. He returned in mid-June, but is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA since.

Correia's latest start came against Chicago on July 2, when he pitched 6 1-3 innings, allowing four runs and seven hits. He didn't factor in the decision in the Cubs' 6-5 win.

Jim Edmonds hit a two-run homer off Correia in that game.

The Cubs are 4-3 at Wrigley since their 14-game home winning streak.  

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