Preview: Rangers at Cubs

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The All-Star break came at just the right time for the Chicago Cubs and the visiting Texas Rangers, who hope to regain the form that staked them to big division leads when they open a three-game showdown Friday at Wrigley Field. The National League Central-leading Cubs and the American League West-leading Rangers both limped into the break but still have substantial cushions heading into the second half.

The Cubs are seven games clear of St. Louis and 7 1/2 ahead of Pittsburgh, but they dropped nine of the last 11 overall before the break along with six of their last seven at home. The Friendly Confines have been good to right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who looks to improve upon a 5-1 record and 1.67 ERA at home when he starts the opener.

The Rangers were also struggling leading into the break, dropping nine of their last 12, but they remain 5 1/2 games ahead of second-place Houston. Left-hander Martin Perez begins the second half on the mound looking to improve upon a spotty road record – 1-4 with a 5.23 ERA in nine starts away from home.

TV: 2:20 p.m. ET, MLB Network, FSN Southwest (Texas), CSN Chicago

PITCHING MATCHUP: Rangers LH Martin Perez (7-5, 3.85 ERA) vs. Cubs RH Kyle Hendricks (7-6, 2.55)

Perez won six straight decisions over a dominant six-week stretch before closing the first half with a disastrous outing at Boston. The 25-year-old gave up 11 runs – seven earned – over four innings to suffer his first loss since May 18. Perez has surrendered five homers over his last four starts after giving up three over his previous nine outings.

Hendricks is within one win of matching his career high, and he has been the Cubs’ most consistent starter over the past month. In four starts and one relief appearance since June 19, Hendricks is 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA and has racked up 25 strikeouts and just eight walks over 25 innings. The 26-year-old has not lost since June 13 at Washington.

WALK-OFFS

1. Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo closed the first half with a nine-game hitting streak and hit .444 during that stretch.

2. Texas OF Ian Desmond (2-for-5, HR) is the only Rangers player who has faced Hendricks.

3. Rangers RHP Yu Darvish, who has been on the disabled list since June 9 with shoulder discomfort, is expected to start Saturday’s contest.

PREDICTION: Cubs 5, Rangers 4