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Series Preview: Phillies at Cubs, May 1 – May 4, 2017

Series Previews

The Chicago Cubs were handed their second series loss last night, at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. But I still can’t be too bummed. It was an annoying series in obvious ways, but it was still the Chicago Cubs at Fenway Park.

Sometimes, you just have to remove yourself a bit and still appreciate the game, regardless of the outcome.

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And as a matter of fact, I’ll be doing just that tonight at Wrigley Field. Bleacher tickets were unusually cheap for tonight’s expectedly cold and rainy match-up, so the fiancée, some friends, and I are bundling up and heading out to the ballpark for some Cubs baseball.

If you see us, say hi!

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (13-11) dropped two out of three in Boston, but remain two games above .500 and in sole possession of first place in the NL Central. With that said, there is not much of a gap, as the last-place Pirates are just two games back (11-13).

The Philadelphia Phillies (11-12) were off to a good start, but dropped their last three games to the Dodgers to fall below .500. Even still, they are well behind the Nationals, who’ve surged out to a huge five-game lead (17-8).

Location: Wrigley Field

Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Monday, May 1 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C+, 670 The Score
  • Tuesday, May 2 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, May 3 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
  • Thursday, May 4 at 1:20 CT on WGN, 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 Lineup or Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.

Chicago Cubs

Starters:

  • Brett Anderson (3.54 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 4.25 xFIP; 1.27 K/BB)
  • Jon Lester (3.68, 3.60 FIP, 3.91 xFIP; 2.89 K/BB)
  • Jake Arrieta (4.66 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 3.21 xFIP; 4.25 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (5.10 ERA, 4.95 FIP, 3.58 xFIP; 3.33 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

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

Javy Baez will work in, as well.


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Philadelphia Phillies

Starters:

  • Vince Velasquez (6.33 ERA, 5.83 FIP, 4.50 xFIP; 1.83 K/BB)
  • Jeremy Hellickson (1.80 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 5.28 xFIP; 3.67 K/BB)
  • Jerad Eickhoff (3.56 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 4.51 xFIP; 2.55 K/BB)
  • Zach Eflin (1.89 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 4.66 xFIP; 3.67 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
  2. Freddy Galvis, SS
  3. Daniel Nava, LF
  4. Odubel Herrera, CF
  5. Maikel Franco, 3B
  6. Michael Saunders, RF
  7. Tommy Joseph, 1B
  8. Cameron Rupp, C
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

As usual, we’ll talk about tonight’s Cubs starter, Brett Anderson, later on in the Pre-Gamin’, but I do want to point out some combined starting staff stats in the meantime. These won’t make you smile:

  • Jon Lester’s 0.5 WAR leads the starting rotation, but is just 48th best in all of baseball. In other words, the Cubs have had just one of the top 50 pitchers this season by WAR.
  • The rotations’ 4.28 ERA is in the bottom ten of MLB, and their 4.39 FIP only just missed the same odious distinction (11th worst in MLB).
  • After leading the world in batting average against last season, the Cubs starters’ .257 AVG against in 2017 is 6th worst in the majors.
  • Their 1.36 WHIP is 8th worst.
  • They’ve allowed the 12th most hard contact in the league.

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But this is Bleacher Nation, so you know I have at least a few optimistic things to share!


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  • Their 49.6% ground ball rate is 5th best in baseball (although it’s also probably fueling their .299 BABIP and .257 AVG against, so take that one with a grain of salt).
  • Their 20.6% soft-hit rate is sixth best in MLB.
  • They may not be racking up the strikeouts, but their 13.2% K – BB% is in the top half of the league (13th).
  • Their 1.45 HR/9 may be fourth worst in baseball, HOWEVER their ridiculous 17.6% HR/FB ratio should probably fall by quite a bit. (Right?)

Really, if they can just cut down on the homers and get a few more balls to bounce their way (no way they are a .300 BABIP defense/staff), the overall numbers should jump quickly.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Yes, Kyle Schwarber is still slumping. Over his past ten games, the Cubs’ left fielder is hitting .154/.267/.179 (31 wRC+). With that said, his strikeout rate is under 30% during that stretch and his walk rate has been 11.1%. Those are small victories to be sure, but still victories.


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And I would like to provide some more vintage BN optimism: Struggling like this is not necessarily a bad thing for Kyle Schwarber.

When we say that it’s good for prospects to struggle in the minors, we’re not just blowing smoke. That is a really important part of a player’s long-term development and it doesn’t end at Triple-A. Schwarber has STILL not played in 100 games at the Major League level, so for all intents and purposes this is like his long, interrupted rookie season. The league has officially adjusted to him, and now the ball is in his court. If and when he bounces back from this stretch, you can just about book that it’ll be a much longer time until his next slump.

Development is not linear, and despite what the legends want you to think, Kyle Schwarber is far from a finished product.

Philadelphia Phillies – Pitching

The Phillies starting staff has actually been all right this season. Overall, their 1.7 WAR sneaks into the top half of the league, and is seventh best in the NL.

With that said, their bullpen has been by far the worst in baseball (-0.9 WAR). While their 4.84 ERA may be just the tenth worst in the league so far, their 5.63 FIP takes the top – or, bottom, rather – spot overall. They’ve allowed a laughable 2.42 home runs/nine and have gotten ground balls just 38.6% of the time.


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And all of those bad numbers are coming in DESPITE owning an unsustainably good 82.2% strand rate (3rd highest in MLB). If the Cubs can’t get to their starters, damage can be done against the relievers. Just hit the ball in the air and let the wind do the rest. (Unless the wind is blowing in, because physics.)

Philadelphia Phillies – Offense

The Phillies’ team 95 wRC+ suggests that they’ve been just about 5% worse than average on the whole, which really isn’t all that bad for a rebuilding club.

Cesar Hernandez has been their only above average (qualified) hitter, although, to be fair, he’s been killing it: .323/.375/.531 4 HRs.

Each of Odubel Herrera (99 wRC+) and Freddy Galvis (98 wRC+) have been just about average, but beyond that the next best hitter, Maikel Franco, has been the equivalent of 2016 Jason Heyward (72 wRC+). I’m guessing his .203 BABIP won’t last forever, though, and let’s just hope the gods don’t start shining upon him in this series.

On paper, the Cubs should get the best of the Phillies in this series. On paper.


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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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