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Series Preview: Blue Jays at Cubs, August 18 – August 20, 2017

Series Previews

Hmm.

A series split against the Reds at Wrigley Field sure felt like something closer to a series loss (especially with the way both of the last two games played out and Jon Lester’s injury (more on that here)). But the Cubs are still better off today than they were a week ago (4-3 in their last seven) and they’re hosting a weak Blue Jays team at Wrigley over the weekend.


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Brett and Luis will be at tomorrow’s game (presumably in the bleachers, but I forgot to ask them), so if you see them in the crowd say, “Hey, where’s Michael? We know he’s the real star of this show.”

Following the Blue Jays series, the Cubs have an off-day on Monday before heading back out on the road against the Reds and Phillies.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (63-57) are just six games over .500 and have never gone more than nine games over .500 this season. However, with three last place teams coming into town, I think this is the week they can do it.


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The Toronto Blue Jays (59-62) are in last place of the AL East, but are also just three games  under .500 for the season. They’ve won two in a row and three overall against the Rays this week, after taking a series from the Pirates over the weekend (thanks for that!).

Game Times and Broadcasts

Location: Wrigley Field

  • Friday, August 18 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
  • Saturday, August 19 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, 670 The Score
  • Sunday, August 20 at 1:20 CT on WGN, 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:

  • Jake Arrieta (3.73 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 4.05 xFIP; 3.00 K/BB) – R
  • Jose Quintana (4.33 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 4.06 xFIP; 2.88 K/BB) – L
  • Kyle Hendricks (3.45 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 4.06 xFIP; 2.50 K/BB) – R

Approximate Lineup*:

  1. Jon Jay, CF
  2. Kyle Schwarber, LF
  3. Kris Bryant, 3B
  4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jason Heyward, RF
  8. Javy Baez, SS
  9. Pitcher

Toronto Blue Jays

Starters:

  • J.A. Happ (3.63 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 4.01 xFIP; 3.00 K/BB) – L
  • Nick Tepesch (5.25 ERA, 9.56 FIP, 7.56 xFIP; 1.00 K/BB)* – R
  • Marco Estrada (5.09 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 4.96 xFIP; 2.38 K/BB) – R

* Three starts.

Approximate Lineup*:

  1. Jose Bautista, RF
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  3. Justin Smoak, 1B
  4. Steve Pearce, LF
  5. Kevin Pillar, CF
  6. Miguel Montero, C
  7. Ryan Goins, SS
  8. Rob Refsnyder, 2B

*Darwin Barney has also been working in at both shortstop and second base.

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

Each of the Cubs three starters over the weekend – Jake ArrietaKyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana – have gotten their own individual write-ups/deep-dives lately, so feel free to check out those posts for analysis on those guys if you can’t wait until the Pre-Gamin.


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Instead, let’s talk about the bullpen.

If you forced to answer, would you have ever guessed that Brian Duensing is the Cubs reliever with the greatest WAR total this season? At 0.8 fWAR, Duensing is tied with Wade Davis at the top of the Cubs bullpen. He’s also the only Cubs reliever with an FIP under 3.00.

He still has pretty serious lefty/righty splits (.314 wOBA v. righties, .241 wOBA v. lefties), but neither side has hit him all that well. Keep it up, my man.


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Chicago Cubs – Offense

Javy Baez is slashing .333/.333/.750 over his last 25 plate appearances, including an LOL-worthy .417 ISO. His second half continues to be fantastic (137 wRC+) and, despite a few errors, the Cubs are extraordinarily lucky to have him covering short.

After his 2-homer performance yesterday, Ian Happ now has a 131 wRC+ in the month of August. That’s a .257/.317/.629 slash line with four homers and a double in just 41 plate appearances. His second-half numbers haven’t been great, but he’s definitely righting the ship here in August (now would be a great time to stay hot, my friend).

Toronto Blue Jays – Pitching

The Blue Jays starting rotation has been middle of the pack this year, actually falling in just one spot behind the Cubs in terms of total fWAR.


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Their best pitcher has undoubtedly been Marcus Stroman, but, fortunately, the Cubs will miss his arm this weekend altogether. Instead, the Cubs’ toughest opponent this weekend will be today’s starter J.A. Happ.

Happ has made 17 starts with the Blue Jays and has earned a 3.63 ERA in the process. He’s not overpowering by any means (22.2% strikeout rate), but he has limited batters to a .245 average and has walked batters at juts a 7.4% clip.

But beware: the Blue Jays bullpen has been among the leagues best (6th by fWAR) this season, so getting in some runs against the starters will be the way to win the series.

Toronto Blue Jays – Offense

By one advanced metric, the Blue Jays (92 wRC+) have been the tenth worst offense in baseball this season. By contrast, the Cubs (99 wRC+) have been the tenth best offense – so, yeah, there’s not a ton of space there but that’s not insignificant.


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But with that said, Justin Smoak (149 wRC+) and Josh Donaldson (150 wRC+) have been absolute monsters. They have 53 homers between them and have combined to knock in 132 runs. As far as terrifying duos go, this one is pretty tough.

Hopefully, the Cubs starters can keep them in check and get outs everywhere else in the lineup.


On Twitter today, I pointed out that …

I got a few responses to that – many of which pointed out that the last four games were too – but it was @James1976mc’s tweet that caught my attention.

So, James and I made a bet. If the Cubs go at least 5-4 over the next nine games, I get to pick a (SFW) gif that he has to post every single day for a week. If they do worse, he gets to pick one for me.

I’m feeling pretty good about the bet, but suddenly, I’m thinking about all the crazy ways this could go very, very wrong.

We’ll see!


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Michael Cerami

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