Some people say it’s not who you play but when you play them. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are facing the Cubs this week, it may be both.
On June 27th the Cubs lost to the Dodgers 7 to 5, their 10th loss in their previous 15 games to fall to 43-34, 2.5 G behind the Milwaukee Brewers.
Since then they’ve slugged their way to a 15-5 record, scoring 6.7 R/G while allowing 5.2 R/G. It’s not exactly been a run prevention model, but here they sit at 58-40, 2.5 games up on the Brewers. They just completed a hard fought 5 games series victory against the Cardinals , 3 games to 2.
While the Cubs are not getting great years compared to previous seasons from stars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, their production has still been solid enough, with 126 and 108 OPS+ respectively. Rizzo had a slow first half, but has come out of the break on fire, going 9 for 15 and 6 walks in the Cardinals series.
What’s most impressive about the Cubs position player side of things is how well balanced they are. They have 9 players with 290 or more PA and over 100 OPS+. That is by far the most in MLB The lowest OPS+ for any position player is Addison Russell’s 92, and he’s playing terrific defense at SS.
It’s all added up to a very solid 103 OPS+, which is 2nd best in the NL. (NL League avg is 94 OPS+)
Javier Baez (3.6) and Wilson Contreras (3.0) have been the top “WAR Earners” so far. Also of note is just 3.5 of their 20.2 position player WAR has come from Free Agent acquisitions Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. 83% of their position player WAR has been from players acquired through the draft, trades, or amateur free agents.
The average position player age is 26.9, which is the 4th youngest in MLB, and the only significant position player over 30 is Zobrist.
And finally, there are no significant players turning free agent for 2019, and only Zobrist is turning free agent in 2020. In fact, this entire core sans Zobrist is signed and under control through 2021. (Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Russell and Kyle Schwarber all are slated to be FA in 2022 as of right now) Cubs Contracts Page
While they have been giving up more runs lately as mentioned above, their team ERA+ of 117 ranks 2nd behind only the Diamondbacks who stand atop the NL with a 121 ERA+.
The most interesting macro point about the Cubs pitching staff is that they have by far the biggest gap in MLB between their ERA and their FIP. ( 3.70 vs. 4.41, dif -.71) by comparison the Angels gap is 0.47, DBacks 0.37, and Brewers 0.32. MLB ERA-FIP Report This type of profile is usually the product of a very good defensive team, which of course the Cubs are. In fact, it’s been a theme for the Cubs for the last several years, as they have the largest ERA-FIP Gap of any team in MLB for 2016-2018 combined
The Cubs have the 2nd best bullpen ERA in the NL this year, at 3.35, it’s behind only the Diamondbacks 2.99. However much like the D0Backs, they have been leaking oil recently, putting up a 5.08 ERA the last 14 days.
Most concerning for the Cubs is closer Brandon Morrow, who has gone on the DL as of July 19th with right biceps inflammation. Pedro Strop, who got the first save in Morrow’s place on the 19th, already blew a save in the second game of Saturday’s double header. Steve Cishek has a lot of closing experience, and could also be used to close out a game or two in the series.
Of interest that borders on schadenfreude , Left Hander Brian Duensing has appeared in 39 games, thrown 28 innings and has a 7.32 ERA with a 1.871 WHIP to match….and he’s still on the roster. And we complain about Andrew Chafin!
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Monday July 23rd 5:05 PM MST Patrick Corbin vs. Luke Farrell
Farrell will be making just his 2nd start of the season and 3rd of his career as the Cubs shuffle their rotation as a result of Saturday’s double header. The tall right hander (6’6”) has been shuttling back and forth for Chicago, pitching mostly in relief. Being a reliever he’s been a 4 Seam/Slider guy, averaging 93 MPH and topping out at 95. He has a curve and a change he rarely mixes in, but may try a bit more in a starting role.
28 IP, ERA: 3.86, FIP: 4.89 (11.9 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, 1.93 HR/9)
All Star Corbin, who comes in with a 6-4 record and 3.24 ERA, looks to rebound from his last start before the break, a loss to the Braves in which he went 6 innings, allowing 4 runs, all of them in the 3rd inning.
Current Cubs batters against indicates he has some tough match ups with this lineup, as do most pitchers. At least he doesn’t have to face Jon Lester.
Tuesday July 24th 5:05 PM MST Clay Buchholz vs. Kyle Hendricks
Hendricks was having a typical season for him through the end of May, (3.19 ERA) but a terrible June (7.03) set back his season numbers quite a bit. He’s been better in July, but had a short outing against the Cardinals on July 19th , going just 4 2/3 IP allowing 3 runs on 9 hits, a walk and a homer. As is typical for this pitch to contact artist, he relies on his defense and almost always has a lower ERA than FIP. (Career 3.11 vs 3.62) . Hendricks is probably looking forward to this matchup though, as he has pretty much owned the current Diamondbacks roster.
YTD 115 IP, 6 W, 8L, 3.99 ERA, 4.61 FIP , 4.11 xFIP, 6.8 K/9 2.5 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9 (career worst)
Buchholz is making his return from a DL trip due to an oblique injury. He last pitched on June 24th. With 7 starts and 39 IP, he brings a 2-1 record, 2.56 ERA, 3.51 FIP to the table in this game. He made a successful rehab start in Visalia this past Thursday, throwing 78 pitches, and “feels great”.
Wednesday July 25th 11:20 A.M. MST (DAY GAME) Robbie Ray vs. Jon Lester
Lester got drilled by the Cardinals on Friday to the tune of 8 runs in just 3 innings, giving up 7 hits, 5 walks, 2 homers and striking out 1. He came into that game with a 12-2 record and 2.58 ERA, but now stands at 12-3, 3.14 ERA, 4.66 FIP in 115 innings of work.
Plenty of success for D Backs hitters vs. Lester over the years, and most of that has come in Chicago. So it wouldn’t be a shock to see the D-Backs offense do well this game.
Robbie Ray comes in with the following numbers:
11G, 53.2 IP, 5.37 ERA, 5.00 FIP, 3.82 xFIP 12.6 K/9, 4.7 BB/9, 2.0 HR/9.
After a promising return start against the Miami Marlins of the
AA Southern League…..errr I mean NL East, July has been a disaster:
4 starts, 20 IP, 26 Hits, 9 walks, 7 Homers and 17 runs allowed for a 7.65 ERA. Yes, he also had 24 K’s. But who cares at this point? Robbie needs to learn how to locate, throw first pitch strikes, and pitch to a little more contact, letting his defense do the work. I mean he’s already giving up a ton of homers…what’s he got to lose by adjusting his approac ?
What little track record there is for Cubs hitters vs. Ray strongly favors Ray, but he’s not been the same pitcher since those starts, so the small sample size not very relevant.
Thursday July 26th 11:20 A.M. MST (DAY GAME) Zack Godley vs. Tyler Chatwood
The D-Backs hitters and their fans are quite familiar with Chatwood from his Rockies years. He’s having a bad year in Chicago
89 IP, 4.84 ERA, 5.42 FIP, 5.52 xFIP, 7.86 K/9, 7.96 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9
The BB/9 is NOT A TYPO. He is leading the majors in walks allowed with 79 in just 89 IP. Somehow he managed to get a win and lower his ERA Saturday vs the Cardinals despite walking 6 in 5.1 IP. The track record against him is somewhat of a mixed bag. Owings, Jay, and Lamb have hit him well, but he’s pretty much shut down Goldy, Peralta and Pollock.
Godley is coming off a tumultuous start in which he took a no hitter into the 5th, only to lose his release point, start falling off the mound, and have a potentially serious “yips” issue arise with throwing to first base. The pressure will be on the young man to prove it was a fluke, as you know the Cubs will try to exploit it. Also not many PA’s for Cubs against Godley. Addison Russell had a 2 homer game against him, but that came back in 2015.
YTD 110 IP, 11-6, 4.65 ERA, 4.21 FIP, 4.11 xFIP, 9.3 K/9, 4.65 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
Considering the disarray to the Cubs rotation due to the double header and the bullpen due to the Morrow injury, a series win is not impossible here. But 4 game series are hard to win, the Cubs are hitting really well, and even if their pitching falters a couple of games, they are likely to hit well in this series too. I’m just going to say I hope for a split.