pirates parrotAfter dropping a close one yesterday, the Chicago Cubs lost their second series of the second half – which, when you think about it, is pretty darn impressive.

Now, they’ll head home for a short seven-game homestand against the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants. Although they’ll only be at Wrigley Field for those seven days, they’ll be headed to nearby Milwaukee afterwards, for a three-game set, followed by an off-day.

In other words, they should have a nice, easier week of a travel after a tiresome West Coast road trip. That always helps.

We’re Going Streaking

The Cubs (82-47) dropped two out of three to the Dodgers and Rockies, but swept the Padres in between, for an otherwise fine 5-4 road trip. Their lead in the Central remains plenty strong heading into the final month of the year.

After winning four straight against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates (67-61) have moved within just a half-game of the St. Louis Cardinals … at 14.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates won 98 games last season, so let their 2016 remind you that a lot can change in just one year of baseball.





Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Monday, August 29 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C,, 670 The Score
  • Tuesday, August 30 at 7:05 CT on WGN, MLBN, 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, August 31 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C, ESPN, 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:

  • Jake Arrieta (2.62 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 3.65 xFIP; 2.55 K/BB)
  • Kyle Hendricks (2.19 ERA, 3.37 FIP; 3.68 xFIP; 3.55 K/BB)
  • Mike Montgomery (2.60 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 3.60 xFIP; 2.62 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Kris Bryant, 3B/LF
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Ben Zobrist, 2B/LF
  5. Addison Russell, SS
  6. Jason Heyward, RF
  7. Wilson Contreras, C
  8. Javy Baez, 3B/2B
  9. Pitcher


Pittsburgh Pirates

Starters:

  • Steven Brault (3.60 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 5.24 xFIP; 1.60 K/BB)
  • Chad Kuhl (3.50 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 4.66 xFIP; 2.45 K/BB)
  • Ryan Vogelsong (3.02 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 4.70 xFIP; 1.86 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Josh Harrison, 2B
  2. John Jaso, 1B
  3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  4. Gregory Polanco, RF
  5. Starling Marte, LF
  6. David Freese, 3B
  7. Francisco Cervelli, C
  8. Jordy Mercer, SS
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

We already discussed the potential for a six-man rotation (and what that may mean for a guy like Mike Montgomery) earlier today, so I’ll steer the conversation elsewhere. Like the bullpen!

Aroldis Chapman has already been worth 0.9 fWAR in his short time with the Chicago Cubs (13.2 IP) and 2.2 fWAR on the season. In fact, if you can believe it, his numbers in Chicago have actually been quite a bit better than they were in New York:

  • New York (31.1 IP): 2.01 ERA, 1.94 FIP, 2.39 xFIP; 36.7% K-rate, 6.7% BB-rate
  • Chicago (13.2 IP): 1.32 ERA, 0.44 FIP, 0.81 xFIP 42.9% K-rate, 6.1% BB-rate

I’d like to highlight that after four straight seasons of a 40%+ strikeout rate with the Reds, Chapman was posting his lowest K-rate since 2011 in New York. While he was still getting the results, that was certainly a notable drop. It could have been by design (perhaps a different pitching coach/philosophy changed the way he attacked hitters) or due to a drop in performance, but he seems to be back to normal (if you call that elite strikeout rate normal) now. (Also, his walk rate has dropped precipitously from years past, so there’s probably a relationship there.)

Chicago Cubs – Offense

I feel like we haven’t checked in on Dexter Fowler for a while, but that’s usually good news. On the season, Fowler is hitting .274/.389/.444 as the Cubs leadoff hitter – which is just swell. You really couldn’t ask for more. And while he’s hitting just .253 and slugging just .368 in the month of August, he continues to get on base (.368 OBP) at an above average clip. Hopefully he heats up a bit more before the playoffs, but even when he “slumps,” he’s still a productive leadoff hitter with a great eye.

You may not have noticed, but Javier Baez has been slumping quite a bit lately. In the month of August, he has just a .221 wOBA and a 31 wRC+, and he’s striking out 29.3% of the time while walking just 2.7%. In fact, in his past 125 plate appearances (the second half to date) he’s got just a .282 wOBA, a 72 wRC+, a 27.2% strikeout rate and a 2.4% walk rate. He continues to provide excellent defense, but he’s going to need to make some adjustments here in September. He can do it.



Pittsburgh Pirates – Pitching

Monday night’s starter, Steven Brault, just made his Major League Debut this season, pitching a game against the Cardinals in early July and another against the Brewers in late July. In those two starts, Brault combined to throw 10.0 innings, allowing just four earned runs (3.60 ERA) on eleven hits and five walks, against just eight strikeouts and a homer.

At Triple-A for the majority of the season, Brault has shown the ability to strike batters out (25.8% K-rate), but has been a bit wild (11.2% walk rate). If the Cubs are patient, they should be able to get to him.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Offense

Andrew McCutchen is just a barely above average hitter (101 wRC+), after slashing .252/.331/.418 through 526 plate appearances this season. He’s also stolen just six bases this year (and just eleven last season), after averaging about 24-25 per year for the six seasons prior. With a negative defensive rating as well, he’s been worth just 1.0 WAR in 2016. Yikes.

In the month of August, Gregory Polanco …

… never mind. It’s been his worst month of the season so far.


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