The Cubs are heading home for a nice, long 10-game homestand at Wrigley Field this weekend.
During this stretch they’ll face the Dodgers (for four games) and the Diamondbacks for three, but it all kicks off this weekend with a three-game set against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The last time these two teams met wasn’t the now-infamous late July sweep in 2015, but the Cubs did drop the final two games of their last matchup in September. Overall last season, the Cubs were 2-5 against the Phillies. Wow. Still, the Phillies aren’t acting like the pushover they’re supposed to be. Hold that thought.
We’re Going Streaking
The Cubs (31-14) salvaged what they could of a difficult road trip, and spared our grief by taking the final two games against the Cardinals in St. Louis. They’re now 4-6 in their last ten games, but have a 4.5 game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central.
The Phillies (26-21), on the other hand, are in third place of the NL East, but are just 2.5 games back of the Nationals. They did just lose two consecutive series to the Tigers and Braves, but they won four straight series before that, and continue to surprise on all fronts (including the fact that they have a winning record despite a negative 31 run differential). Although they weren’t really seen as a pure “tanking” team, they did project to be less competitive than they have been so far. But hey, so were the 2015 Chicago Cubs (okay, maybe that team was a little bit different, but I’m just prepping you for a Phillies team that won’t necessarily go down easily).
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Friday, May 27 at 1:20 CT on CSN, 670 The Score
- Saturday, May 28 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, 670 The Score
- Sunday, May 29 at 1:20 CT on WGN-9, 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.
- Jon Lester (2.60 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.50 xFIP; 3.47 K/BB)
- Kyle Hendricks (3.30 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 3.34 xFIP; 3.17 K/BB)
- John Lackey (3.38 ERA, 3.15 FIP; 3.34 xFIP; 4.69 K/BB)
Approximate Lineup (not today, though):
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Jorge Soler, LF
- Addison Russell, SS
- Miguel Montero, C
- Adam Morgan (5.61 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 5.17 xFIP; 1.67 K/BB)
- Jarad Eickhoff (3.86 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.80 xFIP; 3.91 K/BB)
- Vincent Velasquez (2.75 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 3.53 xFIP; 3.59 K/BB)
- Odubel Herrera, CF
- Cesar Hernandez, 2B
- Maikel Franco, 3B
- Ryan Howard, 1B
- Cameron Rupp, C (or Carlos Ruiz)
- Freddy Galvis, SS
- Tyler Goeddel, LF
- Peter Bourjos, RF
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
Because the order of the rotation is a little wonky right now, the Phillies will get a taste of the top of the rotation (Lester), the middle (Lackey) and the end (Hendricks), before the weekend’s through.
And speaking of the top, Jon Lester is coming off his worst start of the season against the Giants. In that game, he lasted just 2.2 innings, while giving up five earned runs on a homer, three walks and just one K. That poor start did come after a brilliant stretch, though, and Lester was due for some sequencing regression (remember when he got out of two bases loaded no out jams two starts in a row?).
John Lackey, on the other hand, is riding quite the hot streak. In the month of May (five starts), Lackey has just a 2.25 ERA (3.11 FIP), with an excellent 25.6% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate. Of the 133 batters he faced, he’s given up just 20 hits and 7 walks.
Hector Rondon still has an FIP under 1.00 (0.93). That is all.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
Jorge Soler is locked in at the plate right now (I’ve been waiting to type that sentence for so long). In his last 27 plate appearances (dating back to May 18), Soler is slashing .318/.444/.682 including two doubles, two homers, a 14.8% walk rate and a 22.2% strikeout rate. As the weather continues to turn, we may see him heat up even more (not because he doesn’t like the cold, but because the conditions at Wrigley will be more favorable to his game).
And how about Kris Bryant? Over that exact same stretch (40 PA for him), he’s slashing .303/.425/.576 with three home runs of his own. Along with Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler, the Cubs now have three of the top ten positional players in WAR. Those three guys alone have been worth 8 WAR(!) already.
Since returning from the DL on May 14th, Miguel Montero has had a pretty unique line. He’s hitting just .238 and slugging just .333, but his on base percentage is an enormous .429 thanks to a 21.4% walk rate. That walk rate, by the way, is bigger than his strike out rate (17.9%). And, for what it’s worth (and that’s not a lot because it’s such a small sample), he’s had no softly hit balls (0.0% soft rate) in this stretch. Everything he’s put in play has been Medium (75%) or Hard (25.0%). When you combine all of that information (high walk rate, low strikeout rate, good contact) with the fact that his BABIP is .313 … it’s pretty hard to figure out why his batting average is so low. This is all actually pretty encouraging.
Philadelphia Phillies – Pitching
The Cubs will luckily miss probably the biggest pitching threat the Phillies have, in Aaron Nola. He’s already been worth 2.0 fWAR this season and is coming in with a 3.14 ERA. That said, they will get the second biggest challenge in Vincent Velasquez on Sunday.
Velasquez is coming off one of his worst starts, though, having gone just 4.0 innings against the Tigers, while giving up three earned runs on nine hits (including three home runs) and two walks. But he seems to have only two types of performances: really bad ones and really good ones. In his nine starts this season, he’s given up two runs or fewer five times (four of which he allowed no runs at all). In the other four starts combined, though, he’s allowed 19 runs in just 26.1 innings.
As far as the Phillies bullpen goes, they’re basically middle of the road (maybe a touch worse), but they have a pretty excellent back three. Hector Neris (1.30 ERA, 27.2 IP), David Hernandez (2.78 ERA, 22.2 IP) and Jeanmar Gomez (2.45 ERA, 25.2 IP) have combined to be worth 1.7 fWAR already. Gomez is the closer, and he’s already saved 17 games this season,* but he’s the least scary one of the bunch. Neris and Hernandez have strikeout rates of 35.3% and 34.0% respectively. That can make comebacks very difficult in the later innings.
Philadelphia Phillies – Offense
Ah … well you knew they’re had to be a true weakness somewhere, right? You’ve found it: the Phillies offense is their Achilles heal. In fact, their collective offense group is among the bottom five teams in baseball by a variety of statistics (BB-rate, ISO, OBP, SLG, WAR). And aside from Odubel Herrera, they haven’t much to show.
But damn has he been good in 2016. Through his first 200 PAs exactly, Herrera has slashed .327/.440/.461 (.393 wOBA). He’s got a 16.5% walk rate and a 17.5% K-rate. And he isn’t riding some early season luck. In fact, over his last ten games (45 PAs), his numbers come down a little, but not really too much: .316/.422/.500. He’s the Phillies’ one and only offensive weapon right now.
Plan of Attack v. Phillies
- Get ahead early, because the back end of the Phillies bullpen is a pretty solid group. Comebacks won’t come easily.
- Don’t let Odubel Herrera be the one to beat you. He is the only offensive weapon the Phillies have in the cabinent.
- Pitch around the zone. The Phillies have been reluctant to take walks (6.9% team walk rate), so there’s no sense in giving them anything to hit.