Starting today, the Chicago Cubs will play four games against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field, before heading out on the road for another four-game series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
After that four-gamer, though, they’ll be back at Wrigley Field for nine games against the Brewers, Mets, and Cardinals.
There are still eleven straight games before an off-day, though, so there’s plenty of baseball coming up. And I can’t wait. Hopefully, we’ll soon see the Cubs pull away in the NL Central.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (72-60) just swept the Pittsburgh Pirates and are a season-high 12 games over .500. They hold a 3.5 game lead in the NL Central, and are on their way towards their second consecutive divisional title.
The Atlanta Braves (59-72) just swept both halves of a double-header against the Phillies yesterday, but lost three straight series to the Rockies (1-2), Mariners (1-2), and Reds (1-2) before that. They are in third place of the NL East, but are 21.5 games out of first.
Game Times and Broadcasts
Location: Wrigley Field
- Thursday, August 31 at 7:05 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
- Friday, September 1 at 1:20 CT on WGN, MLBN (out-of-market only) 670 The Score
- Saturday, September 2 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
- Sunday, September 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.
- Kyle Hendricks (3.45 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 4.01 xFIP; 2.78 K/BB) – R
- John Lackey (4.98 ERA, 5.48 FIP, 4.61 xFIP; 2.80 K/BB) – R
- Jon Lester (4.37 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3.64 xFIP; 3.37 K/BB) – L
- Mike Montgomery (3.29 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 4.28 xFIP; 1.85 K/BB) – L
- Jon Jay, CF
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Alex Avila, C
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Javy Baez, SS
- Sean Newcomb (4.36 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 4.82 xFIP; 1.73 K/BB) – L
- Mike Foltynewicz (4.84 ERA, 4.41 FIP, 4.64 xFIP; 2.41 K/BB) – R
- Lucas Sims (4.41 ERA, 4.86 FIP, 5.21 xFIP; 2.44 K/BB) – R
- R.A. Dickey (3.91 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 4.72 xFIP; 2.03 K/BB) – R
- Ender Inciarte, CF
- Brandon Phillips, 3B
- Freddie Freeman, 1B
- Matt Kemp, LF
- Nick Markakis, RF
- Tyler Flowers, C
- Ozzie Albies, 2B
- Danby Swanson, SS
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
The big story on the Cubs’ pitching front is that Jon Lester is returning to the rotation and Mike Montgomery is sticking in it. Given how well we know Lester can pitch, how well Montgomery has pitched, and the 20 consecutive games without an off-day, that seems like the right call.
Kyle Hendricks is coming off a hot start against the Phillies, but we talked about his recent and fantastic stretch in depth earlier today, so let’s instead focus on Lackey.
Lackey had gone through a really tough stretch earlier this season, before going on a really nice seven-game hot streak just after the break. Unfortunately, the good times ended when he was blown up for six runs over 5.0 innings Cincinnati. He followed up that flop, with a slightly better, but still not great, 5.0 IP, 4 ER performance in Philadelphia, but both he and Brett saw a lot of positives in that one, including his 8-to-1 K/BB ratio, so maybe he’ll jump right back on the horse.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
The Cubs’ offense is firing on all cylinders right now, and that’s without their starting shortstop Addison Russell or catcher Willson Contreras on the active roster:
The Cubs are batting .283/.357/.488 as a team in the second half of the season. That's best in the NL and second best in MLB.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) August 31, 2017
Individually, Anthony Rizzo has been fairly unstoppable, as we examined earlier today, but don’t sleep on Kris Bryant.
Since the All-Star break, Bryant is slashing .335/.430/.535 (153 wRC+) with six homers and just a tiny 15.6% strikeout rate. In addition, he’s hitting the ball in the air a lot (39.5%) and making very little soft contact 14.7%. Basically, he’s been awesome.
Also, Kyle Schwarber:
Kyle Schwarber since returning from Iowa (160 PAs) on July 6: .243/.338/.550, 127 wRC+, 12 HRs.
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) August 31, 2017
Atlanta Braves – Pitching
By WAR, the Braves pitching staff has been the third worst in baseball.
Arguably their best pitcher is a 42-year-old R.A. Dickey and he’s got a 4.70 FIP and just a 17.3% strikeout rate. However, to be fair, he’s been one of (if not) the best contact managers in all of baseball this season:
Soft-hit Rate: 23.6% (4th in MLB)
Hard-hit Rate: 26.0% (1st in MLB)
So don’t expect the Cubs to have it easy on Sunday against the knuckleballer. Well, except Mike Montgomery, who is lined up to face Dickey again after crushing an upper deck homer off of him last time.
Atlanta Braves – Offense
The Braves offense has been among the bottom ten this season, but has been slightly better here in the second half. Among the qualified players, Freddie Freeman has been their best second-half hitter (.289/.374/.488), but that’s certainly less offensive output than he’s capable of.
Interestingly, former hot-shot shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson has found some success here in the second half (.270/.377/.371), but, as you can see, he’s still not hitting for any power (.101 ISO). I wonder if/when he’ll finally put it all together, because the raw talent is unmistakable.
On paper, the Cubs have the advantage in this one. Let’s see if they make it work for them and keep the winning streak going.