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Series Preview: Nationals at Cubs, August 4 – August 6, 2017

Series Previews

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not terribly torn up about losing the Diamondbacks series – there were simply too many good things be happy about.


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For one, the Cubs scored 24(!) runs in just two games, including an impressive comeback against one of the league’s best pitchers, Zack Greinke, yesterday. Jake Arrieta made a really great start on Wednesday, continuing an encouraging trend. And Willson Contreras continued to have an offensive breakout here in the second half.

Oh, and at the end of it all, the Cubs very nearly won the series anyway. I mean, hey, they outscored the Diamondbacks 24-13 across all three games. And they’re a really good team. I’m just not torn up.

However, it’s not like things are about to get any easier. The Washington Nationals are in town for three more games against the Cubs, in what’s likely to be an 2017 NLDS preview.


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Neither team has locked anything down just yet, mind you, but it’s more likely than not that the Dodgers will win the NL West and have the best record in the National league (which means they’ll get the Wild Card winner), while the Nats and Cubs square off as divisional champs in October.

It’s three day games this weekend, but the popcorn is officially out.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (57-50) have gone 14-5 in the second half of the season, though they finally lost their first series. They’re still in first place of the NL Central, but their lead has dropped to 1.5 games over the Brewers (4.5 over the Cardinals).

The Washington Nationals (63-43) are 11-7 in the second half of the season, but just lost two games in a row and back-to-back series against the Marlins and Rockies. Their lead in the NL East is still quite large, though (12.0 games).


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Game Times and Broadcasts

Location: Wrigley Field

  • Friday, August 4 at 1:20 CT on WGN, 670 The Score
  • Saturday, August 5 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, 670 The Score
  • Sunday, August 6 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.

Chicago Cubs

Starters:

  • Kyle Hendricks (3.80 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 3.91 xFIP; 2.81 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (4.87 ERA, 5.60 FIP, 4.67 xFIP; 2.75 K/BB)
  • Jon Lester (3.96 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 3.61 xFIP; 3.31 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

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

Washington Nationals

Starters:

  • Tanner Roark (4.93 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 4.33 xFIP; 2.36 K/BB)
  • Edwin Jackson? (3.75 ERA, 6.90 FIP, 6.00 xFIP; 1.56 K/BB)
  • Gio Gonzalez (2.66 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 4.31 xFIP; 2.28 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup*:

  1. Brian Goodwin, CF
  2. Wilmer Difo, SS
  3. Bryce Harper, RF
  4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
  5. Daniel Murphy, 2B
  6. Adam Lind, LF
  7. Anthony Rendon, 3B
  8. Matt Wieters, C
  9. Pitcher

*Shortstop Trea Turner is on the 10-Day disabled list after a Pedro Strop pitch broke his wrist the last time these teams faced each other.


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Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

Oh, hey, it’s Kyle Hendricks, making his third start since returning from the disabled list.

His first two starts have gone all right so far, as he’s allowed just 2 earned runs and no walks, while striking out 8, but he’s not made it out of the fifth inning yet, and has thrown just 9.1 innings overall. Hopefully, he continues to build on the successes of his first two starts and makes a nice, deep one against the Nats.

John Lackey had a pretty good month of July (4 starts, 22.0 IP): 3.27 ERA, 4.38 FIP. He didn’t strike many batters out over the course of the month (16.7%), but he kept the free passes to a minimum (6.3%) and has allowed just two home runs in his past four games (BY FAR the best stretch of the season, in that regard).

Let’s see if they can both keep it up.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

I want to talk about Willson Contreras here, but I’ll have a post on his big night and season up later today, so stay tuned for that.


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In the meantime, it’s worth pointing out that Jason Heyward hasn’t been too great in the second half: .242/.296/.424 (85 wRC+). It’s still an improvement over last season, but a far cry away from where his bat was before coming to Chicago.

If you feel like Kris Bryant has been slumping lately, congratulations, you’re in-tune with the universe. Since the All Star break, the 2016 MVP has slashed just .296/.333/.437, which is just about league average production. Of course, if you cut out just his first game of the second half (an 0-5 performance against the Orioles), then his numbers shoot right back up: .318/.356/.470. That’s still not anywhere near “Bryant-like,” but it’s far from a problem. Small samples, baby. You can do things with them.

Washington Nationals – Pitching

After Tanner Roark goes later today, the Nationals’ rotation will be in a state of flux over the weekend.

Dusty Baker said that Stephen Strasburg will “probably not” be an option to pitch this weekend, and Max Scherzer left his last start early after experiencing some neck spasms. On top of that, Gio Gonzalez, Sunday’s most likely starter, is expecting a child any minute now and could have to leave at a moments notice.

In all likelihood, then, we’ll see an Edwin Jackson start at Wrigley Field either tomorrow or Sunday. But before you start licking your chops, you should know that Jackson’s last start was a 7.0 IP, 4H, 1ER effort against a pretty good Rockies team. We’ll explore more on Jackson later if this winds up happening, but yeah, it may not necessarily be a cake walk.


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Washington Nationals – Offense

The Nationals’ offense, as a whole, is the second best in the National League and third best overall by wRC+. But, surprisingly, their most valuable position player is not Bryce Harper. It’s Anthony Rendon, who’s hitting .314/.419/.578.

And, as a matter of fact, all four of the Nationals’ best hitters – Rendon, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman – are hitting over .300 and Zimmerman’s 135 wRC+ is the lowest among the group. Holy crap.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, perhaps it’s that Bryce Harper has just a 105 wRC+ against left-handers and the Cubs have Jon Lester going on Sunday, as well as three great left handers in the bullpen (Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson). Maybe they can make him merely league average?


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Michael Cerami

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