Series Preview: Mariners at Cubs, July 29 – July 31, 2016
The Cubs just swept the Sox! Er, they split their series with the Sox! Uh, they failed to secure the Crosstown Cup ….
Whichever headline you prefer, the Cubs finish their four game matchup against the White Sox with two loses (at U.S. Cellular) and two wins (at Wrigley Field).
They’ll now finish the extended Chicagoland-area portion of the schedule with three more games at Wrigley Field against the Mariners and another three against the Marlins.
Following that, there’s an off-day, before the Cubs head out to Oakland, to take on the A’s for three games, bookended by another off-day. Fortunately, the Cubs have another 10 game homestand after that A’s series, with another off-day sprinkled in. Hopefully they can continue to take advantage of sleeping in their own beds, playing in their own parks, multiple days without baseball, and traveling very little.
We’re Going Streaking
To be fair, the Chicago Cubs (61-40) have done quite well out of the break. At 8-5 since returning, they’ve won two series against contenders (Rangers, Mets), one series against the Brewers, and then split a four-game match-up against the Sox. Could it have been better? Sure. I’d argue that one more win against the Sox and we’re all in La La Land again, but 8 out of 13 is a .615 winning percentage, a number greater than the Cubs current winning percentage (.604).
The Seattle Mariners (51-49) just wrapped up a two-game series split with the Pirates in Pittsburgh, after taking back-to-back series against the Blue Jays and White Sox. In July, the Mariners are a game over .500 (11-10).
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Friday, July 29 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, MLBN (out-of-market only), 670 The Score
- Saturday, July 30 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
- Sunday, July 31 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, 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.
- Jon Lester (4.99 ERA, 5.26 FIP, 4.86 xFIP; 1.69 K/BB)
- Jake Arrieta (2.60 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 3.33 xFIP; 2.93 K/BB)
- Kyle Hendricks (2.27 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.77 xFIP; 3.20 K/BB)
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Kris Bryant, 3B (or LF)
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, LF (or 2B)
- Willson Contreras, C
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Javy Baez, 2B (OR 3B)
- Addison Russell, SS
- Hisashi Iwakuma (3.96 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 4.49 xFIP; 3.03 K/BB)
- Wade Miley (5.23 ERA, 5.01 FIP, 4.52 xFIP; 2.21 K/BB)
- Felix Hernandez (3.45 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 4.38 xFIP; 2.00 K/BB)
- Nori Aoki, LF
- Seth Smith, RF
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- Adam Lind, 1B
- Leonys Martin, CF
- Mike Zunino, C
- Shawn O’ Malley, SS
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
The Cubs will send up their three (currently) best performing pitchers in this series, with Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks set to take the mound. Although, to be fair, the entire rotation has been nails since the return from the break. In their 13 games back (80.2 IP), Cubs starters have combined for a 2.79 ERA, a .190 average against, a 8.1% walk rate and a 23.8% K-rate. That’ll take them a long way, if they can keep it up.
You may be inclined to point out the four runs Arrieta allowed against the Sox as evidence of bad performance, but 1. I think Arrieta looked mostly great that game, save for that one bad pitch and 2. You can’t shy away from challenging a .210 hitter (Todd Frazier) just because there’s like, what, a 6% chance he’ll take you deep. Sometimes it works out sometimes it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean Arrieta was wrong to try.
Let’s talk about Aroldis Chapman, because it’s pretty fun (full dive here). In his 2.1 innings of work as a Chicago Cub, Chapman has faced the minimum number of batters (7), while striking out four of them and walking none. When the samples are this small, the statistics are mostly meaningless, but I thought it would be fun to point out that he has a negative FIP with the Cubs (-0.29). He’s good at the baseball.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
This portion of the Series Preview has turned into our bi-weekly Javy Baez check-up, but what can I say? He’s hotter than Hansel right now. So let’s see how our old friend is doing. [Brett: Googles “Hotter than Hansel,” sees the result, slaps forehead.]
Oh, he’s doing great. You know there was a time not too long ago that I’d shorten the sample of his season, to show you how well he had actually been doing over the past few weeks. But now, there’s no need. Over his entire season (270 plate appearances), Baez is slashing .287/.330/.472 (.343 wOBA, 113 wRC+) with just a 22.6% strike out rate. He’s not just an average offensive contributor, he’s not just an above average overall player, because of his defense; Javy Baez is a legitimately GREAT Chicago Cub. And he’s just 23 years old!
Throw in 9 stolen bases and 11 home runs, and damn, this guy is legit. But just for fun, because you know it’s going to be fun, let’s take a look at his performance in a smaller, more recent stretch. Since June 17th (129 plate appearances), Baez is slashing .328/.380/.546. That’s a .393 wOBA (!) and a .147 wRC+ (!). Put differently, Baez has been about 47% better than the average hitter for a month a half. Who is this kid?
Now let’s talk about Jason Heyward and his three-part July. In the first third of July, Heyward started out hot as all hell (.343/.425/.486 in first 40 PAs). In his next 28 plate appearances, though, he got ice cold (.040/.143/.040). And now, in his most recent chunk (21 plate appearances), Heyward has landed somewhere in the middle (.200/.238/.250). It hasn’t been a nice season at the plate, but there’s still reason to believe he can turn it around in the second half. He just needs to try not to suck, a bit more.
Lastly, let’s check in on Miguel Montero, the forgotten catcher. Montero hasn’t had a fully healthy or productive season overall, having slashed just .198/.327/.327 in his 56 games, but he’s been a bit better recently. In his last five games, for example, he’s slashed .286/.444/.357, thanks to an incredibly unusual 22.2% walk rate and 5.6% strikeout rate. That all ads up to a .369 wOBA and a 131 wRC+. You should note, as well, that he has been starting much more frequently over this stretch. Perhaps the consistent playing time has been the reason for the surge.
Seattle Mariners – Pitching
On Sunday, the Cubs will have a fun match-up, when they send Kyle Hendricks to the mound against Felix Hernandez. Hernandez has been battling injuries this season, and has made only 12 starts (75.2 IP) overall. During that stretch, which came mostly at the beginning of the season, Hernandez has a 3.45 ERA, but far worse peripherals (4.54 FIP, 4.38 xFIP). Most of the difference there can be easily explained by his stark drop in strikeouts (17.9% in 2016, 23.0% for his career). He had never been a huge K-guy, but anything below 20.0% does not leave a lot of room for error.
In his two starts since returning from the DL, King Felix has gone 12.2 innings, allowing 9 earned runs (6.39 ERA), on 19 hits (including 3 homers) just 3 walks and 5 strikeouts. Even when their struggling, though, former aces are always pitchers to be cautious of; a gem is always just around the corner.
Seattle Mariners – Offense
Surprisingly, the Mariners have been one of the best offensive teams in all of baseball this season. Collectively, their batters are slashing .260/.328/.438, which is good for a 109 wRC+, second best in all of baseball. If it weren’t for their terrible defense (at least, according to the advanced metrics) they would have had one of the most valuable group of position players in baseball. Of course, defense counts!
Still, there is plenty of fire power in the lineup. Check out their three biggest offensive contributors:
- Robinson Cano: .301/.360/.528, 22 HRs; 141 wRC+
- Kyle Seager: .287/.363/.532, 20 HR; 140 wRC+
- Nelson Cruz: .285/.370/.540, 25 HRs; 146 wRC+
There will not be a lot of breathing room for Cubs pitchers.