san diego padres friar mascotThe Cubs catch a break in their tough schedule (you know, the stretch in which they went 7-0 against perhaps the two best teams in the National League not from Chicago), with a three game set against the San Diego Padres.

The Padres will make the journey to Wrigley Field this week for three straight night games, before the Cubs get an off-day on Thursday. Jon Lester gets the ball in game one, and behind him the Cubs will look to make it to eight in a row.

We’re Going Streaking

The Cubs (24-6) are still the best team in baseball after sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC and the Washington Nationals at Wrigley to begin the month of May. They are now an astounding 7.5 games up on the Pirates and 9.0 games up on the Cardinals in the NL Central.

The Padres are 13-19 after splitting a four-game set with the Mets over the weekend. They dropped the final two in that series, after winning the first half, and remain in last place of the NL West. For reference, the last place Padres are just 3.5 games out of the West. They’d be 12.0 games out if they were in the Cubs’ division.



Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Monday, May 9 at 7:05 CT on CSN, 670 The Score
  • Tuesday, May 10 at 7:05 CT on WPWR, 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, May 11 at 7:05 CT on CSN, 670 The Score

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.

Cubs

Starters:

  • Jon Lester (1.58 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 2.97 xFIP; 4.22)
  • Kyle Hendricks (3.10 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 3.12 xFIP; 3.83 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (4.02 ERA, 3.20 FIP; 3.21 xFIP; 4.00 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Jason Heyward, RF
  3. Kris Bryant, 3B
  4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  6. Jorge Soler, LF (Javy Baez and Tommy La Stella also get in by way of this slot – frequently)
  7. Addison Russell, SS
  8. David Ross/Tim Federowicz, C
  9. Pitcher


San Diego Padres Nationals

Starters:

  • Cesar Vargas (1.10 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 4.58 xFIP; 1.33 K/BB)
  • Colin Rea (3.82 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 4.26 xFIP; 1.93 K/BB)
  • Drew Pomeranz (2.12 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 3.67 xFIP; 2.56 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Jon Jay, CF
  2. Wil Myers, 1B
  3. Matt Kemp, RF
  4. Brett Wallace, 3B
  5. Melvin Upton Jr., LF
  6. Alexi Ramirez, SS
  7. Derek Norris, C
  8. Adam Rosales, 2B
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

The Cubs’ bullpen remains hot and still has a sub-3.00 ERA for the season (2nd best in the National League). A lot of that credit is due to Hector Rondon, who has been absolutely dominant and amazingly worth 0.6 fWAR already in 2016. In his 11.1 IP, Rondon has a 0.79 ERA and a negative FIP (-.10) – yes, that’s possible. Check this out: he has a 47.4% strikeout rate and a 0.0% walk rate. So, yeah, his K/BB ratio is undefinable … or error … or infinity … or whatever.

And then there’s the enigma that is Trevor Cahill. Over his last three games (6.2 IP), Cahill has a dazzling 0.00 ERA, but his peripherals tell quite a different story. Over that stretch, Cahill has given up six walks and three hits, while getting lucky with a 90.0% strand rate. He has also benefited from a .167 BABIP, which is entirely unsustainable. He has, however, induced a ton of ground balls (66.7%), and has an exceedingly low hard hit rate (5.6%) over that stretch, so it’s hard to figure out just what’s going on. Cutting down on the walks is probably a good place to start.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Offense, offense, offense. The Cubs have a good offense. In their first 30 games of 2016, the Chicago Cubs have scored 184 runs, by far the most in baseball. And they’ve done so without the benefit of their number 2 hitter, Jason Heyward, contributing much of anything at the plate. After taking a few games off for a sore wrist, Heyward has gotten just 3 hits in his last 17 plate appearances. On the season, he is slashing just .212/.317/.260 which is good for a 62 wRC+. Although his BABIP is fairly low for him (.272), it’s not really that crazy, especially considering he’s been striking out just 19.0% of the time.

Instead, the problem is that he hasn’t been making great contact. To start the 2016 season, Heyward has a mere 18.3% hard hit rate, down from 29.1% last season. That’s directly led to his low power and production (.048 ISO, .260 SLG, .270 wOBA).

But never fear, because Ben Zobrist has been scorching hot. On the season, he’s now hitting .277/.406/.475 with a 17.8% walk rate, which is much higher than his strikeout rate (10.1%). He even has five home runs already (same as Kris Bryant), after hitting four in the last week. Since the beginning of the Pirates series, in fact, Zobrist has slashed .360/.455/.880 good enough for a .517 wOBA and a 222 wRC+.



San Diego Padres – Pitching

The Padres have a below average team ERA, but that’s mostly due to the bullpen. As a whole, the Padres pen has a 4.88 ERA, thanks to a meh strikeout rate for a bullpen (21.8%) and an above average walk rate (9.8%). Also, they’ve given up the most amount of hard contact (35.6%) of any reliever corps in baseball. One of the biggest offenders? Former Cub and mustache enthusiast Carlos Villanueva. Over his 16.0 innings this season, he’s carrying a 5.63 ERA (6.76 FIP), bloated by an ungodly 37.5% HR/FB ratio. Getting to the Padres bullpen may be the key to this series.

And that’s in part because the third Padres starter of the series, Drew Pomeranz, has been pretty excellent so far. In his six starts (34.0 IP), he’s kept a tidy 2.12 ERA (2.84 FIP) thanks in large part to an excellent 29.9% strikeout rate. He has walked his fair share of batters (11.7%), though, so maybe the Cubs can knock him out early on Wednesday.

San Diego Padres – Offense

The Padres have collectively been one of the worst offensive teams in baseball. Starting with just a .286 wOBA, they find themselves in the bottom five of several offensive categories (wOBA, wRC+, OBP, SLG, K-rate). Alexei Ramirez, for one example, has just a .254/.282/.297 slash line (58 wRC+) with just a 3.2% walk rate over 124 plate appearances. In his last ten games, he’s got just a .237/.237/.263 slash line, without a single walk.

Matt Kemp has been the Padres’ top offensive performer to date, coming into the series with a .279/.291/.541 slash line, but even he has a sub 3.0% walk rate in 127 plate appearances. He hasn’t been striking out too much, but it’s going to be hard to score a lot of runs if they are unwilling to get on base by any means other than a hit.

Plan of Attack:

  1. Get to the Padres bullpen as soon as possible, it’s by far their weakness.
  2. Keep the ball out of the zone, Padres’ hitters have been reluctant to walk.
  3. Be prepared to walk and strike out a lot against Pomeranz to knock him out early.

Previous Series Review (Cubs v. Nationals):




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