The 2014 season is here, and the Cubs open things up in Pittsburgh once again this year. As you pull for the win today, try not to remember what happened last year on this day (the Cubs won) and what happened thereafter (the Cubs fell apart).
The Series Preview gives you the rundown on what you need to know for the upcoming series. In that way, it’s kind of a preview. About a series. See how that works?
We’re Going Streaking
The Cubs finished up their Cactus League/exhibition season at 15-18-1. That’s about a 74-win pace for a 162-game regular season, which would be interesting if Spring Training records told us anything whatsoever about what was to come.
The Pirates, on the other hand, went 15-10-2 in Spring Training (they had several games cancelled – Florida, man). I don’t think that’s too meaningful, either. They finished the 2013 season at 94-68, and then won the Wild Card game against the Reds.
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Monday, March 31 at 12:05 CT on WGN, ESPN.
- Wednesday, April 2 at 6:05 CT on CSN+.
- Thursday, April 3 at 11:35 CT on CSN, MLBN.
Expected Starters and Lineups
These lineups are likely to be pretty close to what actually gets fielded, but you’ll want to check each day’s Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.
Starters: Jeff Samardzija (-), Edwin Jackson (-), Jason Hammel (-)
Lineup (just an early guess, and it’s obviously a little nuts with the versatility):
- Emilio Bonifacio, LF/2B
- Starlin Castro, SS
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Nate Schierholtz/Justin Ruggiano, RF
- Mike Olt/Luis Valbuena, 3B
- Junior Lake, LF-CF/Ryan Sweeney, CF
- Welington Castillo, C
- Darwin Barney, 2B
Starters: Francisco Liriano (-), Charlie Morton (-), Wandy Rodriguez (-)
- Starling Marte, LF
- Neil Walker, 2B
- Andrew McCutchen, CF
- Pedro Alvarez, 3B
- Russell Martin, C
- Jose Tabata/Travis Snider, RF
- Travis Ishikawa, 1B
- Jordy Mercer, SS
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Anthony Rizzo was killing this Spring, especially off of lefties. On the whole he hit .314/.364/.529 with a couple homers in 55 plate appearances (mostly against legit big leaguers).
The big story, of course, is Starlin Castro, whom everyone will want to see get off to a hot start. It’s going to be tough, given that he missed all of Spring Training, and is pretty much going to have to get ready on the fly. That can be tough when you’re facing big league starters who’ve been preparing for a month.
The other big story, I suppose, is Jeff Samardzija, whom everyone also wants to see get off to a hot start. That begins today, and hopefully continues at least through June, so the Cubs have some options if extension talks have continued to stall.
The Cubs led baseball in Spring homers, so hopefully that’s something that will carry on into the season (even if a huge chunk of those homers will be playing shortstop for the Iowa Cubs).
Your ERA leaders among the starting pitchers this Spring: Jason Hammel (3.24) and Edwin Jackson (4.00), each of whom threw dominant outings in their final appearance, and each of whom face the Pirates in this series.
Reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen hit .417/.472/.792 this Spring because he is insanely good.
Right behind him was Starling Marte (.346/.382/.500), who also happens to have just received a healthy contract extension. Those are the guys to watch out for in the lineup, so long as you don’t give up a homer to Pedro Alvarez (because that’s pretty much all he can do).
Francisco Liriano was a beast last year for the Pirates (2.92 FIP) after struggling the two previous years (FIPs well into the 4s). There will be some regression this year, you can pretty much book it. Will it start today against the Cubs? Liriano just got over a late-Spring groin tweak, so I wonder if he’ll be a little tentative.
Note: As you’re just now noticing, the Series She-View has been retired for the 2014 season. I know for some of you this will be a disheartening development (and I’d encourage you to take it to the Message Board if you’d like to continue the tradition). It was just time to move on.