After a brutal stretch of 24 straight games – most of which were on the road – just before the All-Star break, the Chicago Cubs are now in the throes of a stretch where 14 of 19 games will be played at home.
Tucked away in this nice long stretch of home games, is a nearby weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers (plus a series against the White Sox, so the Cubs will actually be sleeping in their own beds for quite some time).
It sure would be nice for the Cubs take advantage of the the games at (or around) home against .500ish teams, though, because they’ll face each of the Pirates (3), Dodgers (3), Cardinals (3) and Marlins (3) in August.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (57-37) won their last game before the break and then immediately took two series against good teams in the Texas Rangers and New York Mets. All of their problems are not behind them (and, indeed, the Cardinals are surging), but they have played much better lately.
The Milwaukee Brewers (40-53), on the other hand, dropped back-to-back series after the break, against the Pirates and the Reds. They also lost the series just before the break against the Cardinals and have actually won just one series in their last six tries (although, that win did come against the Nationals).
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Friday, July 22 at 7:10 CT on CSN-C+, 670 The Score
- Saturday, July 23 at 6:10 CT on WGN, 670 The Score
- Sunday, July 24 at 1:10 CT on ABC-7, 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.
- Jason Hammel (3.34 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 4.26 xFIP; 2.77 K/BB)
- John Lackey (3.75 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 3.82 xFIP; 3.37 K/BB)
- Jon Lester (2.89 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 3.65 xFIP; 3.58 K/BB)
- Dexter Fowler, CF (if he’s back)
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Kris Bryant, LF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Willson Contreras, C
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Javy Baez, 3B
- Addison Russell, SS
- Jimmy Nelson (3.39 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 4.82 xFIP; 1.66 K/BB)
- Zachary Davies (3.79 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 3.97 xFIP; 3.17 K/BB)
- Junior Guerra (3.06 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 4.05 xFIP; 2.69 K/BB)
- Jonathan Villar, SS
- Scooter Gennett, 2B
- Ryan Braun, LF
- Jonathan Lucroy, C
- Chris Carter, 1B
- Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF
- Will Middlebrooks, 3B
- Ramon Flores, RF
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
You may have glanced over it above, but take a look at Jon Lester’s statistics, they’re quite … odd. Although he has an excellent 2.89 ERA (17th in baseball) and 3.65 xFIP (24th in baseball), his unusually high 4.03 FIP is 47th best in MLB. Now, it’s easy enough to explain the difference in his xFIP and FIP (his 16.2% HR/FB ratio is well above league average and his career marks), but this isn’t all smoke-and-mirror, fly-ball, bad luck. Lester’s K-rate is down a bit to 23.6% (25.0% last two seasons) and his walk rate is up a bit to 6.6% (between 5.4-5.7% last two seasons). That’ll raise your FIP in an honest way. That said, he’s allowing the same amount of soft contact as he has in each of the last two seasons and is allowing less hard contact overall, so I suspect he’ll be fine. A few more strikeouts and a bit more control would put my mind at ease, though.
Hector Rondon has allowed just 7 earned runs all season, and has a 44/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Pedro Strop isn’t having the best season of his career, but he too has allowed just 12 earned runs in his 35.2 innings of work, with 47 (33.6%) strikeouts to just 11 walks (7.9%). He remains one of the better set-up men in the game. And together, the Cubs back end of their bullpen have the 6th (Rondon) and 7th (Strop) best strikeout rates in the National League.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
Jason Heyward continues to have such a very strange season. Going all the way back to June 15th (122 plate appearances), Heyward’s walk rate (9.8%) has been greater than his strikeout rate (9.0%). However, because of an unusually low .258 BABIP (career .306 guy), Heyward is hitting only .231 during that stretch. He’s still getting on base a fair amount because of the walks, but his .065 ISO has lead to an extremely rough .296 SLG. After a truly great start to July (.343/.425/.486 in first 40 plate appearances), Heyward has just one hit in his past seven games.
Here’s to a big turnaround in the second half.
Milwaukee Brewers – Pitching
Throughout the season, the Brewers starters have been just a tad better than the bottom five in baseball. Their relievers have been a bit better, though, and have actually been worth more (fWAR) than the Cubs bullpen [Brett: More innings to go around, though, right? I’m not actually going to check. I just like typing things.]. Leading the charge in the pen for the Brewers is righty Tyler Thornburg. Through 37.2 innings pitched, Thornburg has a 2.39 ERA (3.23 FIP) with a fantastic 34.9% strikeout rate. As a matter of fact, that’s the 8th best strikeout rate in baseball and third best in the National League. In addition to Thornburg, the Brewers have Will Smith, Jhan Marinez and Jeremy Jeffress all throwing pretty well out of the pen. [Brett: Oh, ok, I guess they do have some good arms out there. Back to not typing things.]
So hopefully the Cubs can get it done against their starters, because all of them are beatable. Friday and Saturday’s starters, Jimmy Nelson and Zachary Davies, have each been great their last two times out …
- Nelson: 13.0 IP, 2 ER, 12H, 6BB, 9Ks
- Davies: 13.2 IP, 2 ER, 13H, 1BB, 8Ks
… but Sunday’s starter, Junior Guerra, was roughed up a bit more in his last two starts:
- Guerra: 11.2 IP, 5ER, 10H, 6BB, 11Ks
[Brett: All right, so I do want to type one more thing – if it feels in your gut like Jimmy Nelson always dominates the Cubs, he does. Through 9 career games facing the Cubs and 194 plate appearances, he’s held Cubs batters to a paltry .212/.292/.382 line. That, despite great offenses for the Cubs the last couple years, and plenty of personnel changes over the past three years.]
Milwaukee Brewers – Offense
Although the Brewers don’t collectively land near the top of any offensive statistics, their lineup is hardly a pushover. Jonathan Lucroy (who’s been the subject of many a rumor recently) is back to his former, excellent self: .304/.361/.490. While, at the same time, each of Ryan Braun (130), Jonathan Villar (117), Aaron Hill (108) and Chris Carter (107) have a wRC+ over 100. Carter also leads his team in home runs with 22.
They aren’t the best team in baseball, but there’s not an easy pitch-around target. Cubs hurlers will have to work this lineup up and down.