bernie brewerThere’s nothing worse than a day game loss followed by an off-day (which is precisely what the Cubs just did on Sunday and Monday, respectively).

It sorta makes it feel like baseball in general took a little hiatus, doesn’t it? But fear not, because starting today, the Cubs will now play nine straight games and have just one off day off over the next 23 days.

Throughout this upcoming stretch, the Cubs will get the Brewers (3), Giants (3), Cardinals (3), Phillies (6), Dodgers (4) and Diamondbacks (3), so there’s not much of a break in terms of strength of schedule (with the exception of the Brewers and Diamondbacks, those are all above .500 teams [Brett: But are the Phillies actually an above-average team? I say no.]). After that (and a quick Braves series), the Cubs get the privilege of playing the Nationals, Pirates and Cardinals in nine straight games. There’s a lot of important baseball coming up, so buckle in.

We’re Going Streaking

The Cubs (27-9) took their last series from the Pirates and are now 5-1 against them for the season. Obviously the Cubs have performed quite well in general and especially so against the Pirates, but I’ll remind you that they went 7-0 against the Mets last season, before being swept out of the NLCS (geez … what am I in a bad mood?).

The Brewers (16-22) split a four game set against the Padres, before losing a series to the Marlins and splitting against the Reds. They are 5-5 in their last ten contests, and although its just the middle of May, I don’t suspect there’s much of a path to the playoffs for them. That said, just because they’re a bad team doesn’t mean the Cubs will automatically take the series. If you recall, the Cubs’ only two series losses of the season came against teams you’d fully expect them to beat (Padres and Rockies).

Anything can happen!



Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Tuesday, May 17 at 7:10 CT on CSN, 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, May 18 at 7:10 CT on WGN, 670 The Score
  • Thursday, May 19 at 12:40 CT on CSN, MLBN, 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:

  • Kyle Hendricks (3.03 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 2.95 xFIP; 4.43 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (3.54 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 3.24 xFIP; 4.70 K/BB)
  • Jason Hammel (1.77 ERA, 2.97 FIP; 4.01 xFIP; 2.25 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

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


Milwaukee Brewers

Starters:

  • Chase Anderson (6.11 ERA, 5.98 FIP, 4.68 xFIP; 2.08 K/BB)
  • Jimmy Nelson (3.51 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 4.26 xFIP; 2.16 K/BB)
  • Junior Guerra (4.00 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 4.32 xFIP; 2.60 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup*:

  1. Jonathan Villar, SS
  2. Scooter Gennett, 2B
  3. Jonathan Lucroy, C
  4. Chris Carter, 1B
  5. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF
  6. Alex Presley, LF (Ryan Braun is day-to-day, so he might get in at some point)
  7. Aaron Hill, 3B
  8. Domingo Santana, RF (or Ramon Flores)
  9. Pitcher

*The Brewers lineup was already difficult to pin down, before Ryan Braun sat out with a sore wrist (day-to-day) – this is my best guess.

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

The Brewers get the Cubs back end of the rotation this series, but all three pitchers have been performing quite well lately (and it has the side benefit of lining up Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester against the Giants and John Lackey and Jake Arrieta against the Cardinals in the coming series).

Kyle Hendricks, in particular, is coming off a very good start – like, his best of the year – against the Padres. In that game, he went 6.2 innings, giving up just 2 earned runs on 6 hits, 1 walk and 8 strikeouts. His K/BB on the season is an impressive 4.43 and, at this point, it’s no longer surprising. Since his debut back in 2014, Hendricks has struck out more batters than anyone was expecting, but he’s done so with consistency and across multiple seasons. Maybe he’s just plain good. Of course, his biggest flaw is the perceived inability to make it through the third time of the order (or late into ball games), but of his six starts this season, four have been 6.0 innings or more and none have been less than 5.0. He might not ever consistently go deep into ball games, but 6.0 innings of 2-3 run ball is something you take every time (and that goes double for your fifth starter).

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Jason Heyward is still struggling at the plate, but it’s almost exclusively in the power department. Since the beginning of May, his average (.262), OBP (.367), walk rate (14.0%) and strike out rate (18.0%) are all actually pretty great (and certainly passable considering his defense in right field and his baserunning ability), but his power (ISO (.024) and SLG (.286)) is just not showing up. We knew Heyward has struggled with power before, and early in the season, though, so maybe this is all just temporary (and who knows, maybe his sore wrist really has been making a big impact on how hard he can hit the ball, even if he has no trouble making contact – which seems to be the case).

But how about Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo? Since the beginning of May, those two have been on an absolute tear. Check out some of their numbers over this recent stretch of baseball:

  • Anthony Rizzo: .352/.446/.648, 12.3% BB-rate, 7.7% K-rate, 3 HR, 7 2B
  • Addison Russell: .340/.426/.596 11.1% BB-rate, 25.9% K-rate, 2HR, 3B, 4 2Bs

En fuego.



Milwaukee Brewers – Pitching

In total, the Milwaukee Brewers have the third worst pitching staff (by fWAR) of any team in baseball. In fact, to date, they’ve been worth exactly 0.0 WAR for the season. But to be fair, the starting rotation has been worth about 0.4 WAR, it’s really the bullpen (-0.4 WAR) that has been killing them the most.

That said, the rotation has had its problems. Today’s starter, Chase Anderson, for example, has given up a ridiculous 24 earned runs over his past five starts (24.1 IP). Crazier, he’s given up  37 hits and 11 walks over that stretch, to just 18 strikeouts. But craziest is the fact that he’s given up 9 HRs in those 24.1 innings. Sure, his 27.3% HR/FB ratio suggests some more fly balls are leaving than you’d expect, but 9 home runs in 24 innings still means something’s wrong.

Milwaukee Brewers – Offense

Ryan Braun has been the Brewers’ most valuable offensive contributor this season, but he’s been nursing a sore wrist lately, and has been day-to-day. X-rays revealed nothing serious and he was technically available to pinch hit on Sunday, so we’ll see. If he is in there, though, the Brewers lineup isn’t as weak as you may think.

For the season, Braun is hitting .367/.434/.586 with 7 home runs and just a 14.0% strikeout rate. In addition to Braun, Jonathan Lucroy has found his old strike, slashing .310/.373/.496 and is also striking out less than 18% of the time. Since the beginning of May, Lucroy’s line jumps up to an even more impressive .327/.386/.673 with a sub-16.0% strike out rate. Although, before yesterday’s off-day, Lucroy made an appearance in 14 straight games, including 12 starts (only one was at first base). He’s a likely trade candidate this season, so the Brewers were undoubtedly trying to get him going (it’s worked), but that is a lot of games to catch in a row, even for a 29-year-old.

Lastly, there’s Chris Carter. He hasn’t hit for too much average (.254) or gotten on base a crazy amount (.320), but boy can he slug (.592). He already has 11 home runs on the season (tied for fifth most) and has hit 6 since the beginning of May. So, like I said, if Braun is reactivated, the Brewers legitimately have a dangerous middle of the order.

Plan of Attack v. Brewers

  1. Put the ball in the air against Chase Anderson. He’s been prone to the long ball, so get it up and see what happens.
  2. Do your best to avoid the Brewers’ middle of the order. There is some serious power, and only Carter is much of a strikeout candidate. Don’t necessarily pitch around them, but proceed cautiously.
  3. Do damage against the starters. Yes, the Brewers bullpen has been extremely bad, but their starters (especially on Tuesday) have been perfectly hittable.
  4. Don’t lose another series to a crummy team!



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