In August of the 2015 season, the Chicago Cubs matched-up against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field and swept them in four straight.
It was a decisive turning point in the standings, and one of the most memorable series from an already extremely memorable year.
Now, just about a year later, the Cubs will once again play the Giants in four straight at Wrigley Field, but the stakes are a bit less high for the Northsiders.
But for the Giants, however, well they have a lot more to play for. I’m guessing the Cubs would rather not make it easy for them. It is an even year after all ….
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (85-47) just swept the Pittsburgh Pirates for the third time this season, also representing their seventh series sweep since the All-Star Break. They hold a commanding 15.0 game lead in the NL Central and have a divisional Magic Number of just 16 … on September 1.
The San Francisco Giants (72-60), on the other hand, are still battling for a seat at the table come October. After splitting a two-game series with the Diamondbacks and winning a series against the Braves, the Giants are currently a game and a half back of the Dodgers in the West. That said, if the season ended today, they’d get their shot in a Wild Card playoff against the Cardinals.
[Brett: Remember how, back in July, there was a brief moment when the Giants had more wins than the Cubs? Wow.]
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Thursday, September 1 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C+, MLBN, 670 The Score
- Friday, September 2, at 1:20 CT on WGN, 670 The Score
- Saturday, September 3 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
- Sunday, September 4 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.
- Mike Montgomery (2.60 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.59 xFIP; 2.62 K/BB)
- Jon Lester (2.70 ERA, 3.61 FIP; 3.51 xFIP; 3.56 K/BB)
- Jake Arrieta (2.84 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 3.70 xFIP; 2.48 K/BB)
- Kyle Hendricks* (2.09 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 3.68 xFIP; 3.56 K/BB)
*Sunday’s starter is technically TBD. Kyle Hendricks spot in the rotation is up, but John Lackey remains a possibility.
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Kris Bryant, 3B/LF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, 2B/LF
- Addison Russell, SS
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Wilson Contreras, C
- Javy Baez, 3B/2B
Also: Jorge Soler, LF
San Francisco Giants
- Jeff Samardzija (4.00 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 4.22 xFIP; 2.84 K/BB)
- Matt Cain (5.81 ERA, 5.38 FIP, 4.94 xFIP; 2.13 K/BB)
- Madison Bumgarner (2.49 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 3.55 xFIP; 4.22 K/BB)
- Johnny Cueto (2.98 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 3.54 xFIP; 4.29 K/BB)
- Denard Span, CF
- Angel Pagan, LF
- Buster Posey, C
- Brandon Crawford, SS
- Brandon Belt, 1B
- Hunter Pence, RF
- Joe panik, 2B
- Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
You know what I love about Jon Lester? He always seems to be on autopilot – in a good way! Sure, not every start is a gem, but he frequently (and promptly) bounces back when they are, stays mostly healthy, and is almost always turning in a serviceable (at worst) performance with plenty of upside.
Consider, in his last six starts (dating back to July 29), Lester has gone 37.2 IP (never lasting less than 6.0 innings in a start), while allowing just six earned runs (1.43 ERA), on twenty-six hits (.194 AVG) and nine walks (6.3% BB-rate) against a massive 42 strikeouts (29.4% K-rate). See what I mean? Autopilot set to awesome. Perhaps we’ll get into it another time, but his free-agent contact with the Cubs has looked very good through his first 1.75 years.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
Okay, there isn’t an easy place to start here, because so many Cubs are scorching hot right now. So, considering the date (September 1), why don’t we just take a look at a couple of notable wRC+(s) over the past month:
- Kris Bryant: 219 wRC+
- Jorge Soler: 157 wRC+
- Anthony Rizzo: 136 wRC+
- Willson Contreras: 128 wRC+
- Addison Russell: 114 wRC+
- Ben Zobrist: 104 wRC+
- Dexter Fowler: 104 wRC+
Off the bat, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler jump out at me. Bryant stands out because of the pure insanity of his offensive performance. You just won’t see many guys perform like he has for this long. Soler stands out because he’s continued to perform at nearly elite levels since returning from the DL (.306/.371/.613; 5 HRs) – something we’ve long known to be possible. And then Fowler and Zobrist stick out, because of their innate ability to be above average offensive contributors even when they are in something of a slump. This team is just silly.
But I did leave out a notable player, altogether: Jason Heyward. But it’s not because he hasn’t performed well:
Since Jayson Heyward's four day vacation, he's slashed .333/.351/.500 in 37 plate appearances. This pleases me. pic.twitter.com/cTE6YnxZgj
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) September 1, 2016
Jason Heyward took some days off from August 18th – August 21st, at Joe Maddon’s insistence, and it seems to have paid off dramatically (so far). In his first nine games back (37 plate appearances), Heyward has posted a 126 wRC+. He isn’t walking too often (indeed he went through the longest streak of his career without a walk just recently), but he’s striking out in only 10.8% of his plate appearances. Thanks to a hard hit rate some 5 percentage points greater than his season mark, Heyward has hit for a .167 ISO with an .851 OPS.
While his overall offensive performance on the season (and into the future) remains questionable, him getting hot right now – just before the playoffs – would be an enormous boon to the Cubs’ chances in October. I’m giddy even thinking about it.
San Francisco Giants – Pitching
But despite the offensive outburst in August, Cubs hitters will still be challenged by the Giants’ pitchers this weekend … just hopefully not be the first one: Jeff Samardzija.
Through 26 starts in 2016, Samardzija hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Thanks to a well below average 18.3% strikeout rate, Samardzija’s ERA stands at 4.00, with an FIP (4.17) that isn’t any more encouraging. He hasn’t walked many batters, though (6.5% BB-rate), so the Cubs will have to be aggressive when he comes into the zone.
But following Samardzija, the Cubs will face two of the best pitchers in baseball, in Madison Bumgarner (2.49 ERA) and Johnny Cueto (2.98 ERA). Cueto’s 3.08 FIP is fourth best in all of baseball, while Bumgarner’s 3.25 FIP is eighth best. Bumgarner has also struck batters out at a 27.4% clip this season (7th best in MLB), while Cueto has walked just 5.1% (also 7th best in MLB). The Cubs’ bats will be tested, but I suspect they’ll have what it takes.
How about the match-ups, though:
- Jake Arrieta v. Madison Bumgarner
- Kyle Hendricks (possibly) v. Johnny Cueto
Pretty freakin’ cool.
San Francisco Giants – Offense
As a whole, the Giants offense ranks out as 10th best in baseball, with a collective 101 wRC+. They have six players (with enough at-bats to qualify) with a wRC+ over 100 for the season:
- Brandon Belt: 134
- Buster Posey: 124
- Angel Pagan: 114
- Brandon Crawford: 110
- Denard Span: 101
- Joe Panik: 101
Belt, as you can see, has been their biggest contributor overall, slashing .273/.386/.469 with a 15.3% walk rate and 14 homers on the season. He has been striking out a heck of a lot in August (32.2%) but he’s still got a 14.8% walk rate and a 114 wRC+ on the month.
The Giants are a good team, and this should be a great series.