Series Preview: Cubs at Braves, June 10 – June 12, 2016
The Cubs keep humming along lately, taking series after series from teams, both good and bad.
I say it that way, of course, because early on, the narrative was that the Cubs would play down to bad teams and up to good ones, losing winnable games in the process. As it turns out, they’re plenty capable of beating anyone; you just can’t win every single day. Who knew.
This weekend, the Cubs will head out to Turner Field, for a rematch against the Braves. The last time these two teams met for a three game set, rain washed away the middle one and they split the remaining two. The makeup game isn’t actually happening this weekend (that’ll be July 7th), but they’ll play three nonetheless. The Cubs could stand to do well this series, though, because they have a tough stretch of baseball immediately after. Starting Monday, the Cubs will face the Nationals, Pirates and Cardinals in nine games over ten days.
Although, they are a collective 13-3 over those three teams this season, so maybe they’ll be just fine.
We’re Going Streaking
Since these two teams last met on May 1, the Cubs (41-17) have gone 24-11. Most recently, they took two out of three from the Phillies (although it felt like it should have been all three), en route to winning their fifth straight series. They’re 7-3 in their last ten, on pace for about 115 wins and remain a full 10.0 games up on both the Pirates (32-28) and Cardinals (32-28) in the NL Central.
The Braves, on the other hand, have almost exactly the opposite record of the Cubs for the season (17-42) and do have exactly the opposite record since these two teams last met (11-24). Weird. The Braves have won just 3 out of their last 10 games and are already 18.5 games back of the Nationals in the NL East. If they were to continue this pace all season long, they would win just 47 games by the end of the year … which means you can expect them to sweep the Cubs this weekend, because #baseball.
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Friday, June 10 at 6:35 CT on CSN, 670 The Score
- Saturday, June 11 at 3:10 CT on CSN, MLBN, 670 The Score
- Sunday, June 12 at 12:35 CT on WGN, 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 (2.14 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 4.22 xFIP; 2.33 K/BB)
- Jake Arrieta (1.80 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 2.90 xFIP; 3.35 K/BB)
- Jon Lester (2.06 ERA, 2.99 FIP; 3.24 xFIP; 4.59 K/BB)
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Kris Bryant, LF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Javy Baez, 3B (Albert Almora, Matt Szczur and Chris Coghlan (!) may get in by way of this spot)
- Addison Russell, SS
- Miguel Montero, C
- Bud Norris (5.28 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 4.95 xFIP; 1.38 K/BB)
- Matt Wisler (3.98 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 4.76 xFIP; 2.65 K/BB)
- Williams Perez (4.62 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 4.51 xFIP; 1.64 K/BB)
- Ender Inciarte, CF
- Chase d’Arnaud, 2B
- Freddie Freeman, 1B
- Jeff Francoeur, LF
- Nick Markakis, RF
- Tyler Flowers, C
- Adonis Garcia, 3B
- Daniel Castro, SS
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
It seems that every time I write this section, every starting pitcher the Cubs have going in the series is hot. That’s probably because they have the best rotation in baseball right now, headlined by five (yes, five) pitchers with ERAs under 2.90. And it’s not even like it’s some sort of illusion. All but Kyle Hendricks (3.06 FIP) and Jason Hammel (3.41 FIP) have FIPs under 3.00, as well … and even if they didn’t, you’d take that from your fourth and fifth starters year in and year out.
So lets pivot to the bullpen to see if we can find a weakness. Hector Rondon (1.40 ERA, 1.89 FIP) and Pedro Strop (2.78 ERA, 2.55 FIP) have been nails at the back of the bullpen, as expected, but things haven’t gone quite as smoothly for Clayton Richard (7.20 ERA, 3.93 FIP) or Justin Grimm (4.71 ERA, 4.41 FIP). They haven’t gotten the results they’ve been looking for, and their underlying performance suggests that they really have been a bit off.
Similarly, Travis Wood (2.45 ERA, 4.49 FIP), Trevor Cahill (2.36 ERA, 4.97 FIP) and Adam Warren (2.86 ERA, 5.58 FIP) all feature ERAs that look much better than their underlying performance would suggest. In fact, given the struggles of Richard and Grimm and the peripheral statistics of Wood, Cahill and Warren, I’d expect some serious, negative regression out of the bullpen at some point soon. What they’ve been doing just isn’t sustainable.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
But who cares about pitching when you’ve got the Cubs offense. Well, what’s left of it, anyway. Although I still expect big things, the Cubs will enter this series without Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler or Tommy La Stella. They’ve managed to win without leaning on any of these guys too much this season, but Soler and La Stella, in particular, have been big parts of the offense at times. Hopefully, some combination of Javy Baez, Albert Almora and Chris Coghlan can cover the missed ground.
And to be fair, Baez has been pretty hot lately. Since May 27 (33 PAs), Baez has slashed .375/.394/.625 with an 18.2% strikeout rate. With La Stella and Soler out, Baez may get more starts than he had been before (which was already a fair amount), so he’s picked the right time to start heating up.
Chris Coghlan, on the other hand, hasn’t really found his groove yet. On the season, he’s slashing just .146/.215/.272 with a walk rate (7.6%) well below and a strikeout rate (27.3%) well above what we had come to expect. And you can’t even find an arbitrary hot streak looking back on his numbers. In fact, since May 14 (57 PAs), Coghlan has actually been a good deal worse (.093/.140/.185, 5.3% BB-rate, 29.8% K-rate) than his season numbers. So, uh, yikes. But hey, he’s found success with the Cubs before, maybe he can do it again.
Atlanta Braves – Pitching
The Cubs have quite the pitching advantage in this series. Just like they missed Clayton Kershaw against the Dodgers, they’ll miss Julio Teheran against the Braves. Okay, that’s not really the same thing, as Teheran (2.85 ERA, 4.14 FIP) has gotten much better results than the underlying metrics indicate, but he’s certainly been the best pitcher on this staff and the Cubs will not have to face him.
Instead, they’ll face three guys with combined ERAs approaching 15.00. Bud Norris, Friday’s starter, has only started six games this season, appearing primarily out of the bullpen, after a disastrous start to the year. In his first five starts from April 6 – April 27, Norris gave up 22 earned runs on 6 home runs in just 22.2 innings pitched. In his return to the rotation on Saturday, he went 5.0 innings, giving up just 1 earned run on 3 hits, 4 walks and 2 strikeouts. He’s beatable.
Wisler and Perez don’t figure to be much better. They were both crushed their last time out, as Wisler got tapped for 8 earned runs in just 4 innings against the Dodgers and Perez gave up 6 earned runs in 4.1 innings against the Padres. There’s no reason to rush to the bullpen, this weekend, the damage can be done against the starters.
Atlanta Braves – Offense
The Braves offense isn’t exactly their selling point, either. In fact, their position players have been the worst in baseball, worth a collective -2.3 WAR (the only negative in baseball). As a team, they’re slashing .230/.295/.317 – which is good for 30th/28th/30th in all of baseball.
With the exception of Freddie Freeman, there really isn’t anything there. On the season, he’s hitting .250/.345/.431 (106 wRC+) and that’s about it. Actually he’s the only qualified hitter on the team with a wRC+ above 100. To be fair, the Braves only have two hitters with enough at bats to qualify (what?!), but the other, Nick Markakis, isn’t doing much of anything, either. He has been hitting .311 since May 27, but with a 4.1% walk rate and just 3 extra base hits (all doubles), his OBP (.327) and SLG (.378) don’t inspire much fear.
This team is as beatable as they come. Baseball is always gonna baseball, but the Cubs really should win this series.