Series Preview: Mets at Cubs, July 18 - July 20, 2016

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Series Preview: Mets at Cubs, July 18 – July 20, 2016

Chicago Cubs

mr met logo featureOkay, let’s try this one more time.

The Chicago Cubs are squaring up against the New York Mets, just a couple weeks after losing four straight in New York, and months after losing four straight in the 2015 NLCS.

So, if you’re keeping count at home, the Cubs are 0 for their last 8 against the Mets (after going 7-0 against them last season). #Baseball.

Jon Lester is opening things up for the Cubs on Monday against Steven Matz, but it’s Tuesday’s pitching match-up (Jake Arrieta v. Noah Syndergaard) that is sure to garner all of the attention.

Let’s see if the Cubs can do a little more with the Mets pitching this time around.

We’re Going Streaking

Since the last time these two teams met, the Chicago Cubs (55-36) have gone 4-7, with three of those wins coming in their past four games. They remain steadily in first place of the NL Central, with an 8.0 game lead over the Cardinals.

The New York Mets (40-37), on the other hand, have gone 5-5, since sweeping the Cubs in four straight, dropping their final three before the break. The Mets are seven games above .500, but are in third place of the NL East, behind both the Marlins and the Nationals.

Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Monday, July 18 30 at 6:05 CT on WPWR, ESPN (out-of-market only), 670 The Score
  • Tuesday, July 19 at 6:05 CT on CSN-C, ESPN (out-of-market only), 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, July 20 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, ESPN (out-of-market only), 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.

Chicago Cubs


  • Jake Arrieta (2.68 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 3.39 xFIP; 2.81 K/BB)
  • Jon Lester (3.01 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 3.57 xFIP; 3.86 K/BB)
  • Kyle Hendricks (2.41 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 3.86 xFIP; 3.07 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  2. Kris Bryant, LF
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Willson Contreras, C
  5. Javy Baez, 3B
  6. Jason Heyward, RF
  7. Addison Russell, SS
  8. Albert Almora Jr., CF
  9. Pitcher

New York Mets


  • Steven Matz (3.38 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.44 xFIP; 3.91 K/BB)
  • Noah Syndergaard (2.56 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 2.42 xFIP; 7.11 K/BB)
  • Bartolo Colon (3.11 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 4.09 xFIP; 3.63 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Jose Reyes, 3B
  2. Curtis Granderson, RF
  3. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
  4. Neil Walker, 2B
  5. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  6. James Loney, 1B
  7. Juan Lagares, CF
  8. Travis d’Arnaud, C
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

After six brilliant June starts (1.41 ERA, 26.5% strikeout rate, 4.2% walk rate) earned him NL Pitcher of the Month honors, Jon Lester threw two clunkers to close out the first half (27.00 ERA, 16.7% strikeout rate, 13.3% walk rate, 100% not trying hard enough not to suck rate). Other than the obvious control problems and inability to strike batters out, the difference in those last two starts was the hard contract. In June, Lester allowed just a 23.0% hard contact rate. In his two July starts, it was 45.0%. I suspect he’ll be fine, though, and hopefully the break and extra rest will show that.

You already know that Jake Arrieta is in a bit of a funk, but I’ll bet you did’t expect him to have the fourth lowest K/BB of the starting rotation (better only than Jason Hammel). Indeed, Jake Arrieta – and his 26.1% strikeout rate (best of the Cubs starters) – has the second worst K/BB in the rotation, thanks to a team worst 9.3% walk rate. Last year, Arrieta’s 4.92 K/BB was 11th best in baseball, just behind Zack Greinke and ahead of David Price. This season, his 2.81 mark is 53rd. He’ll have to find that control.

Kyle Hendricks is the cat’s pajamas, and picked up right where he left off in his first start back after the break (6.0 IP, 0 ER, 3H, 2BB, 3K).

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Willson Contreras had a quiet series against the Rangers, registering just two singles against five strikeouts, and has come back down to Earth quite a bit in July: .264/.328/.453. Although, that is still quite good (especially for a catcher) and no one expected him to be Hercules forever. There’s still plenty of offense to enjoy.

Addison Russell is in a bit of a weird stretch, hitting just .255 and getting on base at just a .278 clip, while slugging .471 thanks to two doubles and three homers in 54 plate appearances (.216 ISO). His power has been on display for a while now, though, posting a .200 ISO mark since the beginning of June. His offensive journey is an interesting one to follow, because the peaks come and go so frequently throughout the season. Soon enough, I suspect, one will  last for a very, very long time.

In July, Jason Heyward is walking (12.5%) more than he’s striking out (7.1%), but is still not hitting for power (.347 SLG, .102 ISO) or average (.245 AVG), resulting in below average production overall (88 wRC+). In fact, he’s 0 for his last 16 after a really nice stretch to start off the month (.343/.425/.486 in his first 40 July PAs).

New York Mets – Pitching

Steven Matz is having a very nice (albeit unspectacular) season, with a 3.38 ERA/3.42 FIP/3.44 xFIP pitcher’s slash line and a walk rate under 6.0%. He did allow 5 walks and two homers in last two starts before the break, though, so he is a beatable pitcher.

And then there’s Noah Syndergaard, who has been the second most valuable pitcher in baseball this season (4.0 fWAR), behind only Clayton Kershaw. Given that Kershaw is just about always better than everyone and belongs in a tier of his own, that’s saying quite a lot. Syndergaard’s excellent 2.56 ERA is bested by his even better 2.04 FIP. And that’s supported by a ridiculous 7.11 K/BB (Arrieta’s was 2.81, remember). Syndergaard is officially in the “I just want to watch him pitch,” category/club. That said, the Nationals did get to him in his last start before the break: 4.2 IP, 3ER, 4H, 3BB, 5Ks.

The Mets closer, Jeurys Familia, continues to be dominant (2.49 ERA, 2.28 FIP), but beatable (24.7% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate). You just have to try to make good contact (no easy feat – you’ve seen his sinker, right?).

New York Mets – Offense

The Mets do not have a single positional talent in the top 50 by WAR. Their first player on the list is Yoenis Cespedes (54th), who comes in to the series with just 2.2 WAR. The Cubs, by contrast, have four positional starters with greater than 2.7 WAR and another four with greater than 1.3 WAR.

But to be fair, Cespedes has been pretty good in 2016. Over 327 PAs, he’s slashing .299/.370/.577 with 21 home runs, a 9.8% walk rate and a playable 23.5% strikeout rate. In July, he’s even better: .387/.472/.710 with two homers and four doubles in just 36 plate appearances. The Cubs’ pitchers will have their hands full with him, but should be mostly safe throughout the rest of the lineup.

… of course, that’s the lineup that put up 32 runs across four games in New York earlier this months, so …

Author: Michael Cerami

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