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Series Preview: Cubs at Red Sox, April 28 – April 30, 2017

Series Previews

No more off-days! No more off-days! Ice cream for breakfast!

Starting today – with a weekend set against the Boston Red Sox – the Chicago Cubs will play in thirteen straight games against the Red Sox (3), Phillies (4), Yankees (3), and Rockies (3). Who’s ready for some baseball? (Oh – and I’ll be at the game and in the bleachers Monday night against the Phillies!)

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After that, however, it’s more shake-your-first scheduling: an off day, followed by a three-game set in St. Louis and then another off-day. I blame the Cardinals for that everything.

But as for today, the Old Epsteins will be hosting the New Epsteins in Boston for a really fun, and all-too-rare, Cubs/Red Sox weekend series.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (12-9) had a shot at a road sweep in each of their last two series (Reds and Pirates), but failed to convert on both attempts. Even still, they’ve won all but one series this season, and are in first place of the NL Central. They aren’t exactly on the same herculean pace from last season, but I think they’re just swell.

The Red Sox just had some bad luck at home, getting rained out against the Yankees in Game 1, before dropping two straight thereafter. Can you imagine getting robbed of a game against the Cardinals at Wrigley, before dropping two straight while scoring just one run total across both games? Yikes. Their fanbase will be restless.

Location: Fenway Park

Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Friday, April 28 at 6:10 CT on CSN-C, MLBN, 670 The Score
  • Saturday, April 29 at 3:05 CT on ABC-7, FS1, 670 The Score
  • Sunday, April 30 at 7:05 CT on ESPN, 670 The Score

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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 Lineup or Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.

Chicago Cubs

Starters:

  • Jake Arrieta (3.65 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 2.98 xFIP; 5.80 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (4.88 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 3.42 xFIP; 3.25 K/BB)
  • Kyle Hendricks (4.50 ERA, 5.11 FIP, 4.43 xFIP; 1.78 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

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

We’re likely to see three different lineups and defensive orientations this weekend, with the addition of the DH. Each of Albert Almora and Javy Baez will likely get starts, and Jon Jay is probably going to see some action in the outfield, too.

Boston Red Sox

Starters:

  • Drew Pomeranz (4.60 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 3.12 xFIP; 4.00 K/BB)
  • Steven Wright (8.66 ERA, 8.12 FIP, 5.16 xFIP; 2.25 K/BB)
  • Eduardo Rodriguez (3.12 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 4.37 xFIP; 1.83 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
  3. Mookie Betts, RF
  4. Hanley Ramirez, DH
  5. Mitch Moreland, 1B
  6. Xander Boegarts, SS
  7. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
  8. Sandy Leon, C
  9. Marco Hernandez, 3B

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Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

According to WAR, the Cubs’ bullpen has been middle of the pack (0.5 WAR, 14th in MLB), although to be fair, that’s partly because almost all of the teams ahead of them have had far more opportunities. By ERA (2.97), they’re 7th in the league, by strikeout rate (26.9%) they’re sixth, and by batting average against (.181) they’re second only to the New York Yankees.

HOWEVER, there are a couple of really important things they’re doing quite poorly. For example, their 11.9% walk rate (4th worst in MLB) is ridiculously high and will continue to sap their overall effectiveness (even with a great K rate).


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In addition, their 40.6% ground ball rate (6th worst in MLB) is really low, and it hurts in a couple ways. First, more walks means more baserunners on first – which is precisely when you want ground balls (double plays). A combination that involves a lot of walks and very few ground balls is not a winning one. Second, fewer ground balls means plenty of fly balls (40.0% – 5th most in MLB). The Cubs have been near average on their HR/FB ratio (11.8%), but if that slips, the large number of fly balls turning into HRs can really hurt (and that goes double for a staff that’s allowing a lot of free baserunners in the first place).

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Jason Heyward has not really cooled off, and is hitting .284/.346/.432. His 110 wRC+ nearly matches his career mark (111). Keep doing you, man.

But we’ve talked about Jason Heyward a lot lately, so I’d like to shift our attention to the Cubs’ best player, Kris Bryant – because he’s been on an absolute tear lately:

In fact, Bryant’s working on an eight-game hitting streak to boot, and is hitting .282/.386/.447 overall. 13% of the way through the season, he’s been worth 1.0 WAR. So, if he keeps this up, he’ll wind up with roughly 7.7 WAR by the end of the year.


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Boston Red Sox – Pitching

With respect to the pitching match-ups, the Cubs drew a fantastic weekend to play the Red Sox. In their three-game set at Fenway Park, the Cubs will miss the 2016 AL Cy Young Rick Porcello (pitched on Thursday), perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale (pitched on Friday), and the 2012 AL Cy Young David Price (still out with an elbow injury).


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In their stead, they’ll get Drew Pomeranz, who had a solid season last year (3.32 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 3.0 WAR), but isn’t off to a great start, results-wise, this season: 4.60 ERA. With that said, he does have a much nicer 3.12 xFIP, indicating that his current 17.6% HR/FB ratio might be a bit of an aberration.

After Pomeranz, the Cubs will get knuckleballer Steven Wright, so get ready for some fantastic gifs, because this guy can really throw a knuckle ball:

Although, to be fair, the results have been pretty terrible this season: 8.66 ERA (8.12 FIP), -0.6 WAR. (But seriously, watch the gif of his knuckleball in that post at Baseball is Fun – it is mind boggling.)

Then there’s lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who is striking out a ton of batters this year (31.4% K rate), but also walking a ton (17.1% BB rate).


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Boston Red Sox – Offense

And finally, the offense.

By wRC+, Boston’s offensive production has been sub-par (about 6% worse than average). But with that said, they’ve been the single-hardest team to strikeout this season (16.5% team K-rate). So that means that a high BABIP over the weekend can power this team right into a bunch of runs – especially considered the fact that they still have a top ten OBP.

Individually, the biggest contributors have been Mitch Moreland (143 wRC+), Mookie Betts (135 wRC+), and Andrew Benintendi (133 wRC+). In fact, those are the only three qualifiers who’ve been above average this season.

Shortstop Xander Boegarts, who hit .294/.356/.446 last season, has a 92 wRC+ this year. Although, his slash is rather odd. He’s actually hitting for a much higher average (.313) and is still getting on base the same amount (.353), but is slugging just .328 on the season. His .016 ISO is second worst in all of baseball behind only … Dustin Pedroia (.015 ISO).

What happened, Red Sox? Kitchen run out of Wheaties?


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Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.

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