Series Preview: Pirates at Cubs, May 13-15, 2016

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Series Preview: Pirates at Cubs, May 13-15, 2016

Chicago Cubs

pirates parrotIn case you weren’t really around yesterday, I’m afraid I have to inform you that the world ended after the Cubs dropped both halves of a doubleheader to the San Diego Padres the day before an off-day (what were they thinking!?).

But by some miracle, I woke up today and the Cubs were still in first, I’m still not friends with Paul Rudd, and everything seemed to be in its rightful place.

So, like the Cubs, we’ll move past just the second series loss of the season and into another important matchup against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The last time these two teams squared up, the Cubs took all three at PNC Park, so maybe they can do the same thing again this weekend at Wrigley Field.

We’re Going Streaking

The Cubs (25-8) dropped two in a row at Wrigley and lost the series against the Padres, but have gone 8-2 in their last ten games … so that’s swell. They’re still on pace to win above 120 games this year and are 17 games above .500 for the season in early May.

The Pirates (18-15) just split a series with the Reds (the middle game was postponed) after winning two of three from the Cardinals. They remain 7.0 games back of the Cubs and have gone just 4-6 in their last ten games.

Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Friday, May 13 at 1:20 CT on WGN, MLBN, 670 The Score
  • Saturday, May 14 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, 670 The Score
  • Sunday, May 15 at 1:20 CT on CSN, 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.



  • Jason Hammel (1.85 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 4.37 xFIP; 2.00 K/BB)
  • Jake Arrieta (1.13 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 3.13 xFIP; 2.75 K/BB)
  • Jon Lester (1.96 ERA, 3.39 FIP; 3.30 xFIP; 4.20 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Jason Heyward, RF
  3. Kris Bryant, LF (I know, LF, right?)
  4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  6. Javy Baez, 3B (Jorge Soler and Tommy La Stella also get in by way of this slot)
  7. Addison Russell, SS
  8. David Ross/Tim Federowicz, C
  9. Pitcher

Pittsburgh Pirates


  • Francisco Liriano (3.60 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 3.86 xFIP; 2.05 K/BB)
  • Jeff Locke (4.68 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 4.63 xFIP; 1.16 K/BB)
  • Gerrit Cole (3.78 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 3.74 xFIP; 2.67 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. John Jaso, 1B
  2. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  3. Gregory Polanco, RF
  4. Starling Marte, LF
  5. Francisco Cervelli, C
  6. Jung-Ho Kang, 3B
  7. Josh Harrison, 2B
  8. Jordy Mercer, SS
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

Let’s talk about Jake Arrieta in a way we’re not used to doing: what’s not going right. Over his past three starts (17.0 IP), Arrieta has given up 11 hits and 10 walks. Although he has still gotten plenty of strikeouts (18 over that stretch), his control has genuinely seemed a bit off lately. His results haven’t been terrible, but finding his control was one of the most crucial reasons for his career explosion in Chicago. There is no reason for concern just yet, but I’d say it’s something to look out for during his start on Saturday. The Pirates have the fifth highest walk rate in baseball (9.9%), so Arrieta won’t get off the hook easily.

On the flip side, how about Jon Lester in his last three starts: 18.2 IP, 4 ER, 5BB, 19 Ks. That’s a really nice stretch for Lester, and I’ve really enjoyed the start to his 2016 season. His FIP (3.40) is a good bit worse than his ERA over that stretch, but that’s largely due to a 94.6% strand rate (which is ridiculously high). That said, when you’re recording as many strikeouts as he has been, you’ll tend to leave some runners on the base paths.

Jason Hammel continues his streak of three straight above average first-halves of a season with the Chicago Cubs. His ERA is sparkling (1.85), but his xFIP (4.37) looms ominously in the background. To be quite clear, he needs to strikeout more batters than he has been (20.3%) and walk a bit less (10.1%). Hopefully that all starts this weekend.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

As I’m sure you noticed in the approximate lineup, I chose to include Javy Baez among the probable starters for this series. Of course, some of that is due to his ability to play multiple positions (more opportunities to get into games) and some of it is due to the slump that Jorge Soler is battling through, but most of it is because he’s played really, really well. In his past sixteen games (51 plate appearances), Baez has slashed .298/.353/.489 with a 5.9% walk rate (fine) and a 17.6% strikeout rate (what, what, what?!). His BABIP is above league average (.333), but with his speed and batted ball profile, that is far from unsustainable. Baez is legitimately locked in at the plate and has been brilliant in the field and on the base paths, as well.

To get to the same plate appearance threshold (50 PAs) for Jorge Soler, you have to go all the way back to April 18 (nearly a month ago). In that stretch, Soler has slashed just .130/.200/.174 with a 0 wRC+ (yikes). He’s still walking a fair amount (8.0%), but – and I hate to see this – he’s struck out over thirty percent of the time (32.0%, to be exact). Although there is some bad luck sprinkled in there (.200 BABIP), Soler is legitimately in a funk and has looked positively lost at the plate. After starting in both halves of the double header yesterday and going 1-8 with no walks and four strikeouts, he may not get a start this weekend against the Pirates.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Pitching

The Cubs have an interesting pitching matchup in the beginning of this series, getting two lefties right off the bat (Liriano and Locke (which is even more reason to expect Javy Baez starts over, say, Tommy La Stella)). They’ll get Locke on Saturday, and although his season slash line doesn’t look great, he’s done quite a bit better over his past three starts (2.84 ERA, 3.13 FIP). Over that stretch he’s thrown 19.0 innings, while recording six walks and fifteen strikeouts. He has gotten relatively lucky with just a .226 BABIP and a 7.7% HR/FB ratio, but he’s been recording a heck of a lot of ground balls (56.9%). Hopefully, many of those balls find holes this weekend.

I’m most excited for the matchup on Sunday, though, as Jon Lester squares up against Pirates Ace Gerrit Cole. Cole’s ERA on the season (3.78) is decidedly un-Cole-like, but his peripherals still look quite strong (3.11 FIP). However, he has been walking more batters than usual (8.5% this season, 6.2% for his career), striking out a fair amount less (22.5% this season, 23.4% for his career) and getting far fewer ground balls (44.1% this season, 48.3% for his career). In his last three starts, he’s walked eight batters in just over 16 innings, so hopefully that’ll continue this weekend against the Cubs, who love taking their walks.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Offense

Since the beginning of May (41 PAs), Andrew McCutchen has been (surprise!) scorching hot. He’s slashing .306/.390/.528 with two home runs and two doubles in that stretch, and is walking over 12.0% of the time.

Here are some weird and annoying numbers. In his last 10 games (just 19 PAs, though), Sean Rodriguez has a .353/.389/.647 slash line (.439 wOBA), but a 36.8% strikeout rate and a 0.00% walk rate. Ooookay then. Hopefully, the Cubs cool him down (?) and that K/BB starts to affect him more seriously.

Lastly, Starling Marte has had a nice big breakout this season (he was good before, too, but 2016 has been on another level), slashing .336/.387/.504 in just about 150 plate appearances. Interestingly, he’s not striking out too much (21.1%), but he’s been reluctant to take many walks either (2.8%). He does have 12 hits (including three doubles) in his last 34 at bats, though (.396 wOBA), so he’s still a dangerous hitter.

Plan of Attack:

  1. Win game one. With Jake Arrieta going on Saturday and facing a tough starter on Sunday, winning game one will go a long way towards taking the series.
  2. Take your walks from Gerrit Cole. As I said, Cole has had some command trouble lately, but is still very dangerous. Let him get himself into trouble.
  3. Don’t let Andrew McCutchen beat you. Not unlike the Nationals, pretend McCutchen is the Bryce Harper of this team. No, he’s not capable of inflicting as much damage as Harper is, but it would be a shame to lose to the one guy you know can beat you.
  4. Keep the ball out of the zone for Marte. He refuses to take many walks.

Previous Series Review (Cubs v. Padres):

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami