The Cubs have gotten off to a great start here in the second half of the season, but have done so against some admittedly beatable teams.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with beating beatable teams – in fact, that’s precisely what you’re supposed to do – but a real test is coming to Wrigley over the next six days. That’s when the Cubs will host the Arizona Diamondbacks (60-45) and Washington Nationals (63-41) in back-to-back series.
I wonder how they’ll do.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (56-48) have gone 13-3 in the second half of the season, which is absolutely phenomenal. More impressively, they’ve battled back from game one losses in each of the past three series, winning the final games of each. Isn’t it refreshing to see the pace continue, even after losing a game here or there? That’s what the Cubs were lacking all season.
The Arizona Diamondbacks (60-45) might have the fourth best winning percentage in baseball and four games on the Chicago Cubs, but they’re just 7-9 in the second half of the season. They were swept by the Braves immediately after the break, won a series against the Reds, lost one to the Nats, beats the Braves, and split with the Cardinals in four.
Game Times and Broadcasts
Location: Wrigley Field
- Tuesday, August 1 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
- Wednesday, August 2 at 7:05 CT on WGN, 670 The Score
- Thursday, August 3 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
Expected Starters and Lineups
These lineups are likely to be pretty close to what gets fielded, but you’ll want to check each day’s Lineup or Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.
- Jon Lester (3.88 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 3.63 xFIP; 3.33 K/BB)
- Jake Arrieta (4.03 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 4.07 xFIP; 2.90 K/BB)
- Jose Quintana (4.16 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 3.93 xFIP; 2.98 K/BB)
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Willson Contreras, C
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Ian Happ, CF
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Addison Russell, SS
- Patrick Corbin (4.36 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 3.94 xFIP; 3.11 K/BB)
- Zack Godley (3.06 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 3.17 xFIP; 3.37 K/BB)
- Zach Greinke (2.84 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 3.22 xFIP; 5.52 K/BB)
- David Peralta, LF
- A.J. Pollock, CF
- Jake Lamb, 3B
- Paul Goldshmidt, 1B
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Daniel Descalso, SS
- Adam Rosales, 2B
- Jeff Mathis, C
*Shortstop Ketel Marte is on the bereavement list, but could return this week.
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
The Cubs starting pitchers have a 2.53 ERA in the second half of the season, and three guys going against the Diamondbacks are largely to thank. Jon Lester, for example, has made three starts in the second half and has lasted at least 7.0 innings with two or fewer earned runs every single time.
Jake Arrieta’s last three starts have each been at least 6.0 innings pitched with two or fewer earned runs as well. And, in fact, he’s worked his ERA down to just 2.25 over his past five starts, thanks, primarily, to plenty of weak contact (and, thus, a low BABIP). Of course, with a tiny 18.6% strikeout rate over that stretch, you can probably expect the 81.2% strand rate to crash and more runs to cross the plate.
Over the past week, the Cubs’ bullpen has earned a 0.93 ERA (1st in MLB), thanks to a laughable 100% strand rate (which itself is thanks to a 31.9% strikeout rate). They haven’t been getting a ton of ground balls though (41.5%) and they’ll want to get that rate back up for some more double plays.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
Jason Heyward’s second-half success is still rolling: .271/.317/.475 (103 wRC+), though I’ll say his production is a bit confusing. In general, you’d expect Heyward to walk more than the 6.3% walk rate and slug less than the .203 ISO he’s got since the break. Plus, his .280 BABIP is a fair bit below his .300 career mark.
Earlier today, I sent out this trivia question on Twitter:
Trivia Time: Which Cub has the highest hard contact rate in the second half of the season? (Answer in the series preview)
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) August 1, 2017
And, as I somewhat expected, the correct answer was NOT chosen. Indeed, Addison Russell’s 46.3% hard-hit rate in the second half of the season leads the Chicago Cubs, and ranks 14th in baseball (three spots ahead of Giancarlo Stanton).
And through his first 57 plate appearances of the second half, Russell’s putting that hard contact to good use: .291/.316/.564 (.273 ISO, 116 wRC+). He can stand to walk a bit more, I suppose, but that sort of average, slugging, and overall production is pretty great when it comes from a gold glove caliber shortstop.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Pitching
Later today, the Cubs will face Patrick Corbin, who’s got a 2.83 ERA and a 3.03 FIP since all the way back on June 16. So despite less intimidating season numbers, it’s important to note how dominant he’s been for about a month and half here. We’ll get into his latest start later today in the Pre-Gamin’.
Following Corbin, the Cubs get a pair of Zacks, both of whom are doing really well. First, they’ll get the 27-year-old righty and former Cub farmhand Zack Godley, who’s got a 3.06 ERA (3.03 FIP) this season and has already been worth 2.4 fWAR. Godley, you’ll recall, was traded as part of the package for Miguel Montero a few years ago and has now, apparently, turned into a really solid starting pitcher. Doggonit.
And then, on Wednesday, the Cubs get Zack Greinke, but not the 2016 Zack Greinke, the one who’s actually good again. Indeed, in his second season with the D-backs, Greinke’s got a 2.84 ERA and a 3.18 FIP. His 3.6 fWAR is 8th best in the Majors and is behind only Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw in the NL.
The Cubs are facing some seriously good pitching in this series.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Offense
Paul Goldschmidt continues to be one of the best players in baseball, rocking a .316/.437/.570 line this season with 22 homers and 15 stolen bases. With probably another 55 or so games to go, he’s already earned 4.6 WAR, which is close to his total from all of last season (4.8 WAR).
Oh, and in case that didn’t scare you for some reason, check out his slash line over the past week: .455/.594/.727 (230 wRC+). Yikes.
Since returning to the team on the Fourth of July, A.J. Pollock is slashing .307/.373/.600 with nine doubles, two triples, and three homers in just 83 plate appearances. This team has some serious fire-power on both sides of the ball and will be a real challenge for the Cubs.
I can’t wait.