Series Preview: Dodgers at Cubs, April 10 - April 13, 2017

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Series Preview: Dodgers at Cubs, April 10 – April 13, 2017

Chicago Cubs

And we’re back!

I’m double-dipping on the “we’re back,” of course, given that the Cubs have already played two series this season, but today’s “we’re back!” refers to something a bit more special.

The World Series Champion Chicago Cubs’ are making their triumphant return to Wrigley Field for the first time EVER as champions.

And guess who’s got six thumbs and will be cheering from the right field bleachers tonight? Me with a bag of four severed thumbs. (Just kidding, Brett, Luis, and I will be there!)

As usual, we’ll likely be hanging around Wrigleyville before the game starts, so if you see us say hi. I’m also hoping to get a closer look at The Park at Wrigley, because I drove past it last night and it looked fantastic all lit up in the dark.

Appropriately, the Cubs open things up this year against the team they last finished off at Wrigley Field, the very Dodgers they knocked out of the NLCS in 2016.

The Cubs have an off-day tomorrow, which is starting to get annoying, but they’ll get back into things Wednesday night and then quickly again with an afternoon game Thursday.

They’ll host the Pirates and the Brewers for six straight at Wrigley after that, though, so things will start to get into a rhythm rather quickly.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (4-2) have gotten off to a good start – well, to the season at least. Each series they’ve played so far, however, has actually gotten off to rocky starts (walk-off loses in both of the first games). Hopefully, with an off day tomorrow, that doesn’t happen again tonight. Off-days after those kinds of losses. Oof. Not fun.

The Los Angeles Dodgers (4-3), in the meantime, won their four-game set against the Padres to start the year, but then dropped two out of three in Colorado. The Dodgers are, for the most part, the consensus other best team in the NL, so this should be a good series.

Location: Wrigley Field

Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Monday, April 10 at 7:05 CT on ESPN, 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, April 12 at 7:05 CT on ABC-7, MLBN (out-of-market only), 670 The Score
  • Thursday, April 13 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, MLBN (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 Lineup or Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.

Chicago Cubs

Starters (2016 Stats):

  • Jon Lester (2.44 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 3.47 xFIP; 3.79 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (3.35 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 3.80 xFIP; 3.40 K/BB)
  • Brett Anderson (Almost no sample. Read this for more on Anderson)

Approximate Lineup:

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

(Javy Baez will obviously work in, as well.)

Los Angeles Dodgers 

Starters (2016 Stats):

  • Alex Wood (3.73 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 3.29 xFIP; 3.30 K/BB)*
  • Brandon McCarthy (4.95 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 4.55 xFIP; 1.60 K/BB)**
  • TBD (n/a)

*Just 60.1 IP as a starter.
** Just 40.0 IP

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Andrew Toles, LF
  2. Corey Seager, SS
  3. Justin Turner, 3B
  4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  5. Logan Forsythe, 2B
  6. Joc Pederson, CF
  7. Yasmani Grandal, C
  8. Yasiel Puig, RF
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

The Cubs switched up the rotation over the weekend, flipping Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the order. It was easy enough to do with the off-day, and now the Dodgers will be forced to face two lefties in three games.

In 2016, their team .275 wOBA against left-handed pitchers was dead last in Major League Baseball, and the Cubs are hoping to see those struggles spill over into the new year (we’ll get to this more in the Dodgers’ offense section).

Speaking of those two lefties, Jon Lester and Brett Anderson, both had solid first starts – even if those games accounted for the Cubs’ only two losses of the season. Lester struggled out of the gate a bit on Opening Day, but ultimately allowed just one earned run over five innings. He didn’t have his best stuff that day, but he battled back and kept his team within striking distance. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Anderson also failed to go six full innings (5.2 IP) in his debut as a Cub, but it was a really great start overall: 1 ER, 5 hits, 1 walk, four strikeouts. If he remains healthy, he should be able to deliver starts like that all season long, and that would be huge for the Cubs.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

I plan on getting into Jason Heyward’s business in a dedicated post later, so worry not that there’s no other mention of him here. But you know who else is killing so far this season? Gatorade Star/Cubs left fielder, Kyle Schwarber, of course.

He may only be hitting to a .231 average, but thanks a strong walk rate, he’s still getting on base at a .333 clip and slugging like crazy (.538 SLG, .308 ISO). It’s only been 30 plate appearances, but if your leadoff hitter can give you a 122 wRC+ in front of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, you’ll take it. (And, frankly, I think that slash line will improve.)

In the meantime, Ben Zobrist has taken six walks already (in just 26 plate appearances), which is good for a 23.1% walk rate and .423 OBP. And Albert Almora Jr.’s slash line is eye popping: .571/.625/.571 … but it’s been just nine plate appearances, so we’ll have to pump the brakes a bit.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Pitching

Regardless of how bullish you are on the Cubs’ lineup – and I know it’s an easy thing to fall in love with – you’ll undoubtedly be happy to hear that the Cubs will probably miss Clayton Kershaw this series.

The Dodgers still haven’t announced the starter of the third game and Kershaw could plausibly be that guy (he last pitched on April 8), but I doubt they’ll rearrange the order just to sneak him into Wrigley. (Things got mucked up with Rich Hill going to the DL with blister issues (again).)

Instead, the Cubs will get two guys who can be very good when healthy – Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy – but who are also very rarely healthy, at least over the past few years. We’ll dig deeper into their past starts later today and in the coming days, but suffice it to say, both have really nice upsides when they’re on the field (not unlike Brett Anderson, actually, who had a great year for the Dodgers in 2015 when healthy, and then a not-healthy year for the Dodgers in 2016).

By fWAR, the Dodgers bullpen has been a top ten group this year, but that’s at least partially because their 61.0 innings is seventh most in baseball. That’s a whole lot of work in the early going, but not totally uncommon. Kenley Jansen, their $80 million closer, has already allowed two earned runs in his two innings of work, but I wouldn’t bet that trend to continue. If the Cubs want to win, they should try to get ahead early, because he’s one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.

Los Angels Dodgers – Offense

Above, I mentioned that the Dodgers struggled with left-handers last season, and that’s very much the case this year, as well. Their collective .292 wOBA against southpaws this year ranks 22nd overall in baseball, and it seems the league is quite aware of that.

I know there hasn’t been much of a sample, but I can’t imagine that their 114 plate appearances against lefties already this year (second most in baseball) is a coincidence. I mean, hell, the Cubs actually switched their rotation up specifically to get more lefties in there. If the Dodgers’ want their offense to click, they’ll need to address some of their issues with left-handers.

And finally, don’t look now, but Yasiel Puig is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball in the early going: .292/.414/.750 with a walk rate (17.2%) greater than his strikeout rate (13.8%). And while it’s a small sample overall (29 PAs), that is tied for the most PAs on the Dodgers.

So … What The Heck Happened Last Series?

The Brewers series didn’t quite have the same insanity as the Cardinals series before it, but there was still a walk-off loss on a wild pitch to remind us that the Cubs are human.

And the two biggest things that happened – Jason Heyward ripping the ball and Jake Arrieta’s performance/velocity – are too important to mention briefly here. We’ll be getting into both later though, so just stay tuned. And if you need a tease to ease your mind, I think both are good news.

All right, Dodgers, let’s see what you got.

Author: Michael Cerami

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