texas rangers logo… And we’re back!

After a brief hiatus, the Cubs head back to Chicago to kick off the second half. However, if you were hoping for an easy return after a rough finish in the first half, you may be in for some disappointment.

Kyle Hendricks will take the mound in game one for the Cubs, against the first place Texas Rangers – a Rangers team that’s getting even stronger this weekend, with the return of Yu Darvish. The Rangers have been one of the best teams all season, and will not take this series lying down. Then again, neither will the Cubs.

At least we get to see the two best bromances in baseball on the same field: #Bryzzo and Adrian Beltre/Elvis Andrus.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (53-35) won the last game of the first half and that’s all I can remember! They remain in first place of the NL Central by a full 7.0 games over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Texas Rangers (54-36), are just one of three teams with more wins than the Cubs, but have been a bit cold lately. Just before the break, for example, they won just three times in their last ten tries (then again, the Cubs won just twice in their last ten – Hey, I remembered!).

This is going to be a tough, but very exciting match-up at Wrigley Field.



Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Friday, July 15 at 1:20 CT on CSC, MLBN, 670 The Score
  • Saturday, July 16 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, MLBN, 670 The Score
  • Sunday, July 17 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, TBS, 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.

Chicago Cubs

Starters:

  • Kyle Hendricks (2.55 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 3.85 xFIP; 3.19 K/BB)
  • Jason Hammel (3.46 ERA, 4.55 FIP, 4.38 xFIP; 2.63 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (3.70 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3.85 xFIP; 3.33 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  2. Kris Bryant, LF
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Willson Contreras, C
  5. Javy Baez, 3B
  6. Jason Heyward, RF
  7. Addison Russell, SS
  8. Albert Almora Jr., CF
  9. Pitcher


Texas Rangers

Starters:

  • Martin Perez (3.85 ERA, 4.88 FIP, 4.95 xFIP; 1.13 K/BB)
  • Yu Darvish (2.87 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 3.19 xFIP; 3.17 K/BB)
  • Cole Hamels (3.21 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 4.13 xFIP; 2.329 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  2. Ian Desmond, CF
  3. Nomar Mazara, LF
  4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
  5. Prince Fielder, 1B
  6. Rougned Odor, 2B
  7. Elvis Andrus, SS
  8. Robinson Chirinos, C
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

Although we’re coming out of the All-Star Break, the Cubs have shuffled the rotation a bit to kick things off. Kyle Hendricks will open the second half, followed by Jason Hammel and John Lackey. This will allow the Cubs to line up Jake Arrieta (Tuesday) and Jon Lester (Monday) for the Mets series starting next week. I have a dedicated post on Hendricks up right now, so I won’t dive too deeply into his statistics. Just know that he’s been awesome, and is a fine choice to kick things off in the second half.

In fact, we’ve discussed the starting rotation far too much lately. Let’s check back in on the bullpen, for now, to see where things stand.

As planned, super utility pitchers Trevor Cahill (41.0 IP) and Travis Wood (36.1 IP) have pitched the most innings of any reliever in the pen. Their past as starters, of course, allow them to do so. Cahill has a nice 3.07 ERA this season, but a 4.57 FIP that screams negative regression. That said, he’s allowed runs in only three of his past nine appearances (12.1 IP). Wood, like Cahill, has gotten very solid results (2.97 ERA), but has failed to support it with the underlying performance for sustained success (4.58 FIP). That said, he’s only allowed an earned run in five of his past 30(!) appearances, dating back to May 8. Maybe there’s something in his performance that allows him to out-pitch his peripherals.



Chicago Cubs – Offense

For both teams, I’m going to focus on the bromances. For the Cubs, that means we’ll take a look at Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. In fact, each has been in the news quite a bite lately.

Just yesterday, I discussed how wickedly hot Anthony Rizzo was to close out the first half of the season, hitting eight consecutive hits (five for extra bases), before making an out in his final at-bat. He then got a hit in the All-Star game and was ranked the sixth most valuable player in the Major Leagues by Dave Cameron at FanGraphs. For specifics on his 2016 season, check out my article, but suffice it to say his .299/.416/.591 (21 HR) start to the season has made him easily one of the top hitters in the game.

And then there’s Kris Bryant. Bryant leads the National League in home runs, trailing only Mark Trumbo overall. He hit a home run in the All-Star game, as well, and was ranked out as the third most valuable asset in all of baseball, behind just Carlos Correa and Mike Trout, at FanGraphs. But if you thought Anthony Rizzo was hot at the end of the first half, check out Kris Bryant’s July slash line: .355/.512/.710 (3 HR). That slash line is the beneficiary of matching 19.5% walk/strikeout rates and a .355 ISO, culminating in a ridiculous .506 wOBA over 41 plate appearances.

Regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the Cubs line, the heart of the order is thumping … loudly.

Texas Rangers – Pitching

The Cubs have their work cut out for them this weekend, though. They’ll face not only Cole Hamels on Sunday, but also Yu Darvish on Saturday. Although Darvish is returning from an injury – any may even be on an artificially limited pitch count – he is still an excellent pitcher that could carve up any lineup.

The same goes for Hamels. Cole is getting fairly good results in 2016 (3.21 ERA), but is really struggling under the surface (4.56 FIP) – and it’s not like he’s known for outperforming his peripherals, like some pitchers are. His strikeout rate is a bit down (22.7%) and his walk rate is a bit up (9.8%) right now, so the Cubs could stand to be patient on Sunday. Their patented selective aggression will be an ideal approach against Hamels. But be prepared, that may lead to some frustration early on.

Texas Rangers – Offense

Ah, the other half of the bromance. I suppose if you’ve made it this far, you’ll know what bromance I’m referring to, but if you haven’t seen Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre be best friends, just take a look.

Let’s start with Andrus.

Andrus, 27, has only been an All-Star twice in his eight-year career, but has been a pretty solid, if not light-hitting, shortstop for a while now. In 2016, though, his bat looks pretty good: .294/.349/.422 with 4 HR. He walks an average amount (7.9%) and rarely ever strikes out (12.2%), either. In July, however, he’s been on fire – slashing .375/.421/.656 (.436 wOBA) with four doubles, a triple, a homer, and two stolen bases. He’s even increased the walks (10.5%) while still refusing to strike out (13.2%). He won’t always be a world-beater, but right now he is doing quite well.

Adrian Beltre, on the other hand, is one of my favorite, active, non-Cubs players. Check this out: Beltre, now 37, was worth 3.4 WAR in 1999 (!), and has already been worth 2.3 WAR in 2016 (17 years later!). That’s impressive, and he’s still rocking this season. Through his first 83 games, Beltre has slashed .281/.336/.442 with 12 homers almost the exact same walk rate (6.6%), strikeout rate (11.5%) and ISO (.161) as the last three years. He also happens to be a an extremely valuable (at least according to the advanced metrics) defensive contributor.

So who comes out on top this weekend? #Bryzzo or Andrus/Beltre.




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