Well there certainly is a lot going on around the Cubs stove right now, isn’t there?
Against the back drop of three straight series victories, a significant trade for Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, and Chris Sale jersey-slicing, the Cubs are about to begin a four game series against the Chicago White Sox.
Well, to be more accurate, they’re going to play two, two-game series in a row, but we’re going to preview everything at once. The first two games kick off tonight at U.S. Cellular Field, and then they’ll swing by the North Side to finish the final two at Wrigley Field. Everything you need to know about the four game match-up is listed below, so, you know, enjoy.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (59-38) have won three straight series, after taking the final game against the Pirates before the break. While they were on a bit a of down note near the end of June/beginning of July, it appears that they’ve turned a corner. With the Cardinals’ loss yesterday, the Cubs have a 7.5 game lead in the NL Central.
The Chicago White Sox (48-50) just took three out of five from the Tigers (four game series, plus finishing up a suspended game), after losing two out of three to the Mariners and three straight against the Angels. They are in fourth place (8.5 games back) in the AL Central and are 6.5 games back from a Wild Card spot.
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Monday, July 25 at 7:10 CT on ABC 7, 670 The Score
- Tuesday, July 26 at 6:10 CT on CSN-C, ESPN, 670 The Score
- Wednesday, July 27 at 7:05 CT on WGN, ESPN, 670 The Score
- Thursday, July 28 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C, 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 Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.
- Jake Arrieta (2.60 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 3.33 xFIP; 2.93 K/BB)
- Kyle Hendricks (2.27 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.77 xFIP; 3.20 K/BB)
- Jason Hammel (3.35 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 4.28 xFIP; 2.73 K/BB)
- John Lackey (3.79 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 3.82 xFIP; 3.33 K/BB)
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Kris Bryant, 3B (or LF)
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, LF (or 2B)
- Willson Contreras, C
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Javy Baez, 2B (OR 3B)
- Addison Russell, SS
Chicago White Sox
- Miguel Gonzalez (4.41 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 4.63 xFIP; 2.07 K/BB)
- James Shields (4.99 ERA, 5.26 FIP, 4.86 xFIP; 1.69 K/BB)
- Jacob Turner (14.73 ERA, 7.78 FIP, 5.37 xFIP; 1.14 K/BB)
- Chris Sale (3.18 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 3.69 xFIP; 4.55 K/BB)
- Adam Eaton, RF
- Tim Anderson, SS
- Melky Cabrera, LF
- Jose Abreu, 1B
- Justin Morneau, DH
- Todd Frazier, 3B
- Dioner Navarro, C
- J.B. Shuck, CF
- Tyler Saladino, 2B
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
I know you’ll want something on Aroldis Chapman here, but we’re going to get to that later today in greater details. For now, we’re gonna talk about Kyle Hendricks.
Hendricks has pitched phenomenally well this summer, culminating in the lowest ERA on the Cubs and third lowest ERA in all of baseball. Now, you know me, I’m an advanced statistics/sabermetrically-inclined person, and I know ERA isn’t everything. In fact, it’s far from it. However, it would be unfair to Hendricks not to point out how well he’s done. Further, we know that a big part of his game is inducing weak contact (something he’s been exceptionally good at this year) and those types of pitchers can often be undervalued by measures like FIP and WAR. So, while he’s certainly not the best pitcher in baseball (let alone best on the Cubs), Hendricks has done quite well for himself and I think some level of success is quite sustainable.
In Hendricks last three appearances (two starts and one out of the pen 14.1 IP), by the way, he’s allowed zero earned runs on 10 hits, just 4 walks, while striking out 11.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
Are you ready for your smile-inducing Javy Baez update? Since June 1 (156 plate appearances), Baez is slashing .308/.353/.514 with seven home runs, nine doubles, six stolen bases, a 25.6% strikeout rate, and a 4.5% walk rate. I’m not sure at what point we’ll decide to say he’s killing it on offense, end-of-story (and not designate it to a specific period), but we can’t be too far away. Some of that is wisely-chosen match-ups against lefties (he’s crushed them), but a lot of it is simply Baez improving his game. With Russell stepping out of the lineup with a heel bruise during yesterday’s game, we may see more of Baez at shortstop over the next week.
In July, Willson Contreras has come back down to Earth a bit, slashing just .250/.341/.417 in 82 plate appearances. Worse, his strikeout rate has spiked to 29.3%, which is mighty high for that level of slugging. Still, this is a bit of a small sample, and he doesn’t really look overmatched at the plate. As a rookie catcher with fewer than 130 plate appearances in the Major Leagues, I’d say he’ll be just fine.
Chicago White Sox – Pitching
The Cubs should have the pitching advantage in the first three games of this two-part series, until Chris Sale takes the mound against Jason Hammel on Thursday. Although, to be sure Sale hasn’t quite been his usual, dominant self in 2016, and is currently working off a five-game suspension. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still been quite good, but he’s certainly taken a step backwards from the past few years, especially with regards to striking batters out.
Take a look:
- Chris Sale ’14: 2.17 ERA/2.57 FIP/2.83 xFIP; 30.4% K-rate, 5.7% BB-rate
- Chris Sale ’15: 3.41 ERA/2.73 FIP/2.60 xFIP; 32.1% K-rate, 4.9% BB-rate
- Chris Sale ’16: 3.18 ERA/3.70 FIP/3.69 xFIP; 24.5% K-rate, 5.5% BB-rate
While he’s gotten mostly good results, the peripherals are inarguably worse. With all of that said, in his last start, Sale went 8.0 innings, giving up just 1 hit and 3 walks, while fanning six Mariners. Dude can still cut through a lineup. [Brett: Yup, I see it.]
Chicago White Sox – Offense
We looked at one recently great member of the White Sox take a step back this year in Sale, now let’s look at another one in Jose Abreu. Without looking, what would you guess Abreu’s slash line looks like right now? How many home runs do you think he has? How much WAR has he been worth?
If you haven’t been paying close attention, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised:
- Slash line: .273/.331/.427 (98 wRC+)
- Home Runs: 11
- WAR: -0.1
Yup. Abreu has been about 2% worse than the average hitter, has only 11 home runs – after hitting 66 in his first two seasons combined – and has been worth negative WAR (due in large part to his shaky defense at first base). You can’t pitch to him like he’s some sort of replacement level player, by any means, but the power from 2014 (.264 ISO) and 2015 (.212 ISO) has completely disappeared this season (.154 ISO).
That said, Abreu has hit a bit (and gotten on base) in July (.319/.375/.417), but the power is still not there, and he hasn’t hit a home run since June 23 (106 plate appearances). Hopefully, that streak lasts for four more games.