If it was out of the ordinary to see the Cubs face a pair of left-handed starters in their doubleheader sweep of the Cardinals on Tuesday, what is it when the Cubs enter a three-game set against the White Sox and three unique left-handed starters?
The White Sox will trot out Carlos Rodon, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana over the weekend, in order. That trio provides a distinct set of match-up problems for most lineups.
However, the Cubs’ counterpunch features a lineup that has hit lefties well despite facing a disproportionately small amount of them. Their 594 plate appearances against lefties is the fewest in all of baseball and approximately 175 plate appearances fewer than the league’s median number.
If anyone is going to anchor the offense this weekend, it will be Anthony Rizzo, who is a proud owner of a .383/.492/.574/1.066 slash line in 59 plate appearances against lefty starters in 2015.
A significant part of Rizzo’s ascent to being a premier hitter in has been his approach against left-handers overall, which began in 2014 when he slashed .321/.419/.569/.987 against lefty starters.
It is a significantly better than his career .248/.345/.434/.779 line.
Rizzo has seen the most improvements in his plate discipline. Since 2014, he has drawn 20 walks from left-handed starters, while striking out only 22 times.
The dip from his career 16.73 percent strikeout rate to the 11.7 percent number he has sported since the start of the 2014 season — which spans 188 plate appearances — might be the most important aspect of his success against southpaws.
And good luck trying to give Rizzo the LOOGY treatment if it comes down to the wire in the late innings.
But if the Cubs offense is to push across runs against three solid southpaws, the other bats at the top of the order must be ready to contribute.
Dexter Fowler and his .326 average, 9.3 percent walk rate .809 OPS could provide a nice presence as a table setter for the run producers.
And while Kris Bryant is only hitting .256 against lefties, his 20 percent walk rate (11 walks in 55 plate appearances) and .488 slugging percentage make up for what might be missing in the raw batting average number.
He also has this on his résumé:
Stacking Fowler, Rizzo and Bryant at the top of the order could pay dividends for the Cubs offense. Add Jorge Soler, who is 7-for-32 (.219 avg.) against left-handed starters, but has drawn 10 walks in 43 plate appearances (23.3 BB%) against them this season and the top half of the order looks like it can hold its own.
Of course, it would be nice for the rest if the rest of the line-up help carried the offensive load.
Starlin Castro is in the midst of a disappointing season, but has done his best work against lefty starters with an 8.5 BB% and .269 average. Addison Russell (.162/.262/.370/.532 in 47 PA) has struggled mightily against lefties early on in his big league career. Chris Denorfia, a career .287 hitter against left-handed starters, only has 4 singles in 19 at-bats against lefties.
As a team, the Cubs have performed admirably against southpaws. Albeit, in what has been established as a relatively small sample size.
The team has put together a solid .249/.344/.365/.710 slash line against lefty starters, which is better than its overall slash of .240/.316/.378/.694 and a marked improvement from its .239/.311/.380/.691 slash against right-handed starters. The team’s 9.6 BB%, .324 wOBA, 103 wRC+ and .734 OPS against all left-handed pitchers rank third, fourth fifth and sixth in baseball, respectively.
So, while the underachieving White Sox could present a bit of a challenge over the weekend thanks in part to their left-handed hurlers, the data suggests the Cubs should be up to the challenge this weekend.