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Series Preview: Cubs at Rays, September 19 – September 20, 2017

Series Previews

If those pesky Brewers would stop winning so often, this week’s short series against the Rays might not feel so crucial.


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But now, with the Cubs barreling toward a four-gamer against the Brewers on the road over the weekend, winning at least one of these next two games against the Rays feels downright necessary.

The odds still favor the Cubs, but boy are things a bit too close for comfort.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (83-66) just swept the Mets and the Cardinals in back-to-back series and are, thus, currently riding a six-game winning streak.

The Tampa Bay Rays (73-77) just dropped two out of three to both the Red Sox and Yankees, are four games under .500, have been eliminated from the AL East, and are inching closer to postseason elimination all together.

Game Times and Broadcasts

Location: Tropicana Field

  • Tuesday, September 19 at 6:10 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, September 20 at 6:10 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.


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Chicago Cubs

Starters:

  • Mike Montgomery (3.57 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 4.38 xFIP; 1.73 K/BB) – L
  • Jon Lester (4.30 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 3.75 xFIP; 3.07 K/BB) – L

Approximate Lineup:

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

*Albert Almora Jr. will probably start in center field tomorrow against the lefty, Blake Snell, and Joe Maddon has already said that Kris Bryant is getting tonight’s game off.

Tampa Bay Rays

Starters:

  • Chris Archer (4.06 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 3.31 xFIP; 4.20 K/BB) – R
  • Blake Snell (4.25 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 4.74 xFIP; 1.92 K/BB) – L

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
  2. Steven Souza Jr., RF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Lucas Duda, 1B
  5. Wilson Ramos, C
  6. Corey Dickerson, DH
  7. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
  8. Brad Miller, 2B
  9. Mallex Smith, LF

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

The Cubs are sending two lefties to the mound in Tampa Bay this week, and that works out to their benefit, because the Rays have an 88 wRC+ (22nd in MLB) against southpaws this season.


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But I should point out that Jon Lester is being crushed by righties this season (.340 wOBA) worse than he ever has in his career. In fact, now that I’m looking even closer, I can see that his splits are much more pronounced than ever before (he’s previously had years where he’s even been better against righties than lefties). This will require a deeper dive soon, but for now, expect plenty of righties in the lineup this afternoon.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

The Cubs offense has been firing on all cylinders lately, and that, of course, includes Albert Almora, on whom we shined a light recently.

But how about some attention on Kris Bryant, who has somehow turned in the quietest 6.2 WAR season I can ever remember. His full season slash line is a wonderful .290/.404/.532, and his second-half production is even better: .318/.410/.536.


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And yet somehow, his partner-in-crime, Anthony Rizzo, has out-shined him in the second half: .313/.421/.553 (154 wRC+). When both halves of Bryzzo cranking away like they are right now, it’s no wonder the Cubs have gone 40-21 in the second half.

Tampa Bay Rays – Pitching

The Cubs are getting a difficult matchup in the form of Chris Archer today, who’s running out the best strikeout rate of his career this season (29.8 K%) at the same time he’s working the lowest walk rate of his career (7.1 BB%).

Archer does have a couple of 2017 weaknesses, though. For one, he’s recording just a 41.1% ground ball rate, which means the Cubs should have the ability to get the ball in the air (assuming they put it on play). And for another, he’s working with a much worse than average 39.3% hard-hit rate. That’s a recipe for home runs, so let’s see if the Cubs sluggers can take advantage.

Tampa Bay Rays – Offense

We already know that the Rays offense struggles against left-handed pitching, but they’re not that much of a struggling offense overall (97 wRC+, 15th in MLB).


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Logan Morrison, a lefty, has been their best hitter this year, but it’s worth pointing out that although he’s weaker against southpaws, he’s not actually “bad” against them: 109 wRC+. In fact, lefties have a tougher time striking Morrison out than righties, so don’t expect his left-handed bat to be a safe-spot for Lester or Montgomery.

Interestingly, their second-best hitter, Steven Souza Jr., is a righty, but actually has reverse splits this season:

v. RHP: 121 wRC+
v. LHP: 106 wRC+

Because their best two hitters are both weaker against southpaws, though, you have to like this matchup for the Cubs on-paper. Even if Chris Archer is a stud.


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Michael Cerami

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