I struggled to decided how to lead off this particular series preview, given the chance that it could be the last one of the year.
But instead of dwelling on that fact (and the associated dread), let’s go about it like it’s business as usual, eh?
The Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants will kick off Game 1 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field tomorrow night. The Cubs secured their spot weeks ago, after clinching the NL Central with 103 wins, and the Giants secured their spot yesterday after an unexpected, ninth-inning home run from Conor Gillaspie.
Although the Giants are probably the least favorable match-up the Cubs could have potentially drawn (out of the Cardinals, Mets and Giants), the odds are still in their favor. They will have home field advantage, but games 3 and 4 (if necessary) will be held in San Francisco.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (103-58) finished the regular season by winning seven of their last ten games (well, plus a tie). They finished with the best regular season record, and won at least eight more games than any other team in MLB.
The San Francisco Giants (87-75) also won seven of their last ten games, including the clincher on the final day of the season. Combined with their victory in the Wild Card Game against the Mets, the Giants have won five straight.
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Friday, October 7 at 8:00 CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
- Saturday, October 8 at 7:00 CT on MLBN, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
- Monday, October 10 at TBD CT on FS1, MLBN, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
- Tuesday, October 11 at TBD CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
- Thursday, October 13 at TBD CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
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 (2.44 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 3.47 xFIP; 3.79 K/BB)
- Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.59 xFIP; 3.86 K/BB)
- Jake Arrieta (3.10 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.68 xFIP; 2.50 K/BB)
- John Lackey (3.35 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 3.80 xFIP; 3.40 K/BB)
- TBD – likely Jon Lester
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Kris Bryant, LF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Addison Russell, SS
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Javy Baez, 2B
- David Ross, C
*The Cubs will very likely use three different starting catchers in games 1, 2, and 3, so the personnel and order will be different each time. The lineup above, however, is most likely it for Friday night.
San Francisco Giants
- Johnny Cueto (2.79 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 3.42 xFIP; 4.40 K/BB)
- Jeff Samardzija (3.81 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.96 xFIP; 3.09 K/BB)
- Madison Bumgarner (2.74 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 3.54 xFIP; 4.65 K/BB)
- Matt Moore (4.08 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 4.56 xFIP; 2.47 K/BB)
- TBD – likely Johnny Cueto
- Denard Span, CF
- Brandon Belt, 1B
- Buster Posey, C
- Hunter Pence, RF
- Brandon Crawford, SS
- Angel Pagan, LF
- Joe Panik, 2B
- Conor Gillaspie, 3B
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
In case you missed it, I wrapped up the overall seasons for the Cubs expected starters – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey – over the past week and a half. What I didn’t quite do in any of those posts, however, was take a quick look back at each of their latest starts to see how they did … if you didn’t know, none made it passed the fifth inning, and almost all were pretty bad:
- Jon Lester (v. Reds): 5.0 IP, 5ER, 6H, 3BB, 6Ks
- Kyle Hendricks (v. Reds): 5.0 IP, 4ER, 6H, 1BB, 4Ks
- Jake Arrieta (v. Pirates): 5.0 IP, 7ER, 10H, 2BB, 4Ks
- John Lackey (v. Pirates): 5.0 IP, 1ER, 5H, 3BB, 3Ks
Hendricks and Arrieta, in particular, lost their sub-2.00 and sub-3.00 ERAs (respectively), with a clunker on the final start of the year, but none of those games held any significance and the main goal was to stay healthy. In that way, each of them succeeded.
Although the Giants have a scary two-headed monster at the front of their rotation, the Cubs seems to be better off overall.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
But just because the Cubs have a better rotation, doesn’t mean they don’t have their work cut out for them. Indeed, Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner are legitimate aces, and the Cubs will need to be on their A-game from thing one – especially their two best hitters: Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
Bryant finished the season with 8.4 WAR (second most in baseball to Mike Trout) and a wRC+ just under 150 (4th best in the NL). In his final month of the season (114 PAs), however, he was very quiet: .221/.296/.375 (80 wRC+). Hopefully the time away from game action will jump start his offense back into full gear.
Rizzo, finished the season with a lot less WAR (5.1), but a very similar 145 wRC+. His final month of the season, while not as good as the overall picture, was quite strong: .287/.357/.525 (135 wRC+).
While the Cubs two and three hitters will be the key to their success, there are still plenty of other crucial pieces to the lineup. Namely, Dexter Fowler (who had a .414 OBP in the final month of the year), Addison Russell (who ended the year with just 6 hits in his last 45 plate appearances), and Jason Heyward (whose last 56 plate appearances came with a .411 OBP and a 140 wRC+).
Offensive contributions in such a small sample can come from just about anywhere, though – just ask Conor Gillaspie.
San Francisco Giants – Pitching
The Giants’ starters are easily the most intimidating factor for the Cubs heading into this series. If all five games are needed, the Cubs are likely to see Johnny Cueto (twice) and Madison Bumgarner (once) in three out of the five games. And in case you missed it, both of them have been extremely dominant.
After signing a deal with the Giants this past offseason, Cueto came in and was worth 5.5 fWAR over 219.2 innings pitched. While his 22.5% strikeout rate isn’t too terrifying, his 5.1% walk rate and 27.2% hard-hit rate (seventh best in MLB) are. He’s extremely tough to square up, and is capable of lasting deep into ballgames. Patience might not be the key against Cueto; the Cubs will have to come out swinging.
And then, of course, there’s Madison Bumgarner – possibly one of the best postseason pitchers of all time. He finished his regular season with a 2.74 ERA and 4.9 fWAR over 34 starts … and then went on to utterly dominant (an admittedly weak) Mets lineup last night. Luckily, because of the Wild Card game, the Cubs should only draw Bumgarner once in this series.
If you’re looking for a weakness, each of Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija are hittable starters, but both also flash dominance from time-to-time (you remember how it was with Shark). While I like the Cubs chances against either of them, nothing is guaranteed.
San Francisco Giants – Offense
The Giants finished the season with the fourth most valuable group of position players (behind the Cubs, Red Sox, and Indians), but weren’t the most successful offense in the league – their .315 wOBA was tied for 16th, and their 98 wRC+ was tied for 12th overall. Even still, there is plenty of fire power in the lineup.
Brandon Belt finished the year with a .374 wOBA and a 138 wRC+, and each of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Angel Pagan were above average offensive contributors.
But let’s circle back to Belt for a minute, because he’s likely to be a thorn in the side of Cubs fans everywhere. Even after starting the month off with an 0-15 stretch, Belt managed to hit .284/.432/.500 with an 18.9% walk rate in September. Yikes. Cut out those first five games, and he has a 180 wRC+ in just under 100 plate appearances. There are plenty of other threats in the lineup, but he might be the biggest.
With any luck, though, the Cubs will continue playing the game they’ve been playing all season long and I’ll get to write two more Series Previews, before we turn in for the offseason.