Series Preview: Cubs at Reds, June 27 – 29, 2016
Believe it or not, the Chicago Cubs still have the best winning percentage in baseball and are still on pace to win 105 games. It hasn’t been particularly fun lately, but those are important things to remember.
Also, the reason we were thrilled with the early season dominance was – at least, in part – because of the cover it provides for a stretch like this. No, the Cubs aren’t playing their best, but they’re playing without so many key players Faulting them too hard is probably unfair.
It’s a new week, a new series, and the Cubs still have 14 straight games left before the All-Star Break. The Cubs can win a lot of those games, hit the break, rest up, have some home run derby fun (maybe even with Jake Arrieta) and begin the second half anew. It could happen.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (48-26) have lost two in a two, and six of their past seven games for the first time under Joe Maddon’s stewardship. They also lost two series in a row, to the Marlins and Cardinals. What they could really use right now is a series matchup with the Pirates (he said slyly).
The Cincinnati Reds (29-47) just lost three of four to the Padres, after splitting a series with Texas and losing one in Houston. They’ve won just three times in their past ten games and are 20.0 games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. Things could be worse for the Cubs, eh?
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Monday, June 27 at 6:10 CT on WGN, 670 The Score
- Tuesday, June 28 at 6:10 CT on CSN, 670 The Score
- Wednesday, June 29 at 11:35 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.
- Jake Arrieta (1.74 ERA, 2.51 FIP, 3.13 xFIP; 3.06 K/BB)
- Jon Lester (2.10 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.29 xFIP; 4.30 K/BB)
- Kyle Hendricks (2.76 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 3.58 xFIP; 3.39 K/BB)
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Kris Bryant, LF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Javy Baez, 3B
- Addison Russell, SS
- Miguel Montero, C (or David Ross, Willson Contreras)
- Albert Almora Jr., CF
- Dan Straily (3.83 ERA, 4.34 FIP, 4.83 xFIP; 1.95 K/BB)
- John Lamb (4.78 ERA, 5.24 FIP, 5.07 xFIP; 1.42 K/BB)
- Cody Reed (6.75 ERA, 5.13 FIP, 3.13 xFIP; 3.00 K/BB)
- Zack Cozart, SS
- Joey Votto, 1B
- Brandon Phillips, 2B
- Jay Bruce, RF
- Adam Duvall, LF
- Eugenio Suarez, 3B
- Jose Peraza, CF
- Tucker Barnhart, C
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
The collective ERA of the trio of Cubs starters for this series (6.60) is almost equal to James Shields’s ERA in all of 2016 (6.22). That doesn’t mean anything, I just thought it was funny. And what do you want me to say? The Cubs pretty clearly have the starting pitching advantage in this one, but that hasn’t seemed to weigh too heavily on the outcome of the games lately.
As for Jake Arrieta, he continues to limit runs, but fails to last too deeply into his starts. And unlike the plan at the beginning of the season, he isn’t being artificially limited to save bullets for the playoffs, he’s just using a ton of pitches to get through about 5.0 innings at a time.
Hendricks had a weird go of it last time out, as well, allowing 4 runs on just one hit – a grand slam (although none of them were earned due to an Addison Russell error). Regardless of the final stat line, it wasn’t his best outing. He too lasted just 5.0 innings.
With that said, I’m not sure that Jon Lester isn’t the best pitcher on the Cubs right now. Since May 27 (last six starts), Lester has thrown 43.1 innings with a 1.45 ERA. He’s got a well above average 28.1% strikeout rate and a well below average 4.8% walk rate. Opposing batters are hitting just .196 off of Lester and he’s getting ground balls 54.3% of the time. His infield fly ball rate is up (12.1%), his hard hit rate is down (25.2%), and he just looks good out there. Let’s see if he can keep it up.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
Thanks in part to a mini slump and in part to his time on the disabled list, Dexter Fowler is now the 20th most valuable player by WAR (according to FanGraphs). Even still the Cubs can really use him back, because the whole “You go, we go,” adage may be more true than we know:
Top of the order hitters since Fowler’s absence:
- Ben Zobrist: .154/.267/.154
- Jason Heyward: .250/.333/.281
- Kris Bryant: .185/.314/.481 (the walk rate and the .296 ISO is saving this slash line)
If it weren’t for Anthony Rizzo (.500/.522/.750), Willson Contreras (.348/.464/.783), and Addison Russell (.310/.355/.586) during that stretch, we may not have had much to cheer for at all. Damn, the Cubs lineup is deep, man.
Cincinnati Reds – Pitching
Former Cub Dan Straily has made his way to the Cincinnati in 2016, having made 13 starts for the Reds this season. Although things started out well enough (3.38 ERA in April), his uglier peripheral statistics began to show through relatively quickly (4.01 ERA since then). In fact, in his last six starts (since May 25), Straily has amassed a 5.06 ERA, due in part to his lack of strikeouts (20.5%). He hasn’t been hit too hard .202 average against for the season, but he is a very beatable pitcher and the Cubs should be plenty familiar.
As a whole, the Reds pitching staff has been the worst in baseball. Collectively, the starters and the bullpen have been worth -3.0 fWAR. The pen, in particular, has been brutal (6.13 ERA, 5.97 FIP; -3.0 fWAR). More specifically, they’ve been unable to strike batters out (18.9% – 27th in baseball) and have walked far too many in the process (12.0% – 30th in baseball). As empty as this may sound, the Reds are a very beatable team. The Cubs need to find a way to get it done.
Cincinnati Reds – Offense
On the other hand, the Reds do have some offense. For example, Jay Bruce is hitting .279/.328/.581 for the season, and has a .398 wOBA (149 wRC+) with 3 HRs since the middle of June. Adam Duvall may have slowed down overall (.252/.288/.576), but still has 21 dingers already this season. And then there’s Joey Votto.
At the beginning of 2016, Votto was in a really weird slump. In April, for example, Votto hit .229/.327/.313 with an uncharacteristically high 23.5% strikeout rate. Since May 1, however, he’s hit .251/.393/.474 and in June he’s hitting .316 with an OBP (.464) greater than his SLG (.461). That’s good for a .403 wOBA and damn scary nightmare in the middle of the lineup. I know that anyone can slump – even Joey Votto – but very few people come sprinting out of their slumps so aggressively. He’s a really special hitter and should be treated carefully at the plate.