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Series Preview #30: Cubs @ Diamondbacks

Madison Bumgarner Returns

New York Mets v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images


As recently as June 24th the Chicago Cubs were 42-33, tied for first place with the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. This was surprising to many, as Fangraphs and some others projected them to be a sub .500 team, no better than 3rd place in the division. It turns out they were probably right. Since June 25th the Cubs lost 11 in a row, and 13 out of 15 to fall to 44-46, 8 games back of the Brewers.

With no fewer than 18 potential free agents in 2022 the window of contention for this team has seemingly closed. As a result, they might have just begun a sell off. It was reported yesterday that outfielder Joc Pederson was traded to the Atlanta Braves. On the heels of that move, it was also reported that the Mets are interested in Kris Bryant. I’m sure they’re not the only ones. Marquee players Craig Kimbrel, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Jake Arrieta are also among players in the final year of their contracts. It would be nice if they could move a few of them before tonights game.

The Cubs have a team 92 OPS+ and 96 ERA+. So below average on both fronts. They were doing well in one run games, (13-11), but then lost 5 one run games during their recent nosedive dropping to 13-16. Thanks to being outscored by 24 runs, their 42-48 pythagorean won loss is slightly worse than their actual record.

The bullpen has been the strength in Chicago. Looking at their Baseball-reference page you can see a slew of relievers well over 100 ERA+, and Fangraphs ranks their pen 3rd best in the NL. There is one Cubs reliever in particular whose excellent performance will stick in the craw of some D-backs fans. Andrew Chafin has a 1.42 ERA backed up by a 2.61 FIP. He’s hardly walking anybody and is doing great in high leverage situations.

The main issue for the Cubs has been starting pitching. While relatively healthy, (4 starters have made 15 or more starts) they actually rank last in the NL in starting pitching. With the exception of Kyle Hendricks they’ve all pretty much been terrible.

The 26-66 (46-116 pace) Diamondbacks are looking for a fresh start to the second half. They’ve earned most of their MLB worst record, but it’s notable the pythagorean W-L is 32-60. That’s still a 56-106 pace. But with a little better luck perhaps they wouldn’t be challenging the all time loss record of 120 set by the 1962 Mets.

They’re an astoundingly horrid 3-20 in one run games. This falls mostly on the shoulders of the worst bullpen in MLB. But bad luck, bad defense with bone headed plays at the worst possible moments, and a lack of timely hitting are all big factors as well. Arizona’s 69 wRC+ in high leverage situations ranks 27th MLB.

And of course the injuries to 4 of their 5 starting pitchers and lost time on the IL for numerous key position players throughout the season have forced them to use mostly “not ready for prime time” fill ins who are failing to play at even a replacement level. They’ve already used 14 different starting pitchers, a franchise record and there are still 70 games to go.

They hope that the return of Madison Bumgarner to the rotation will be the start of that. There is also a chance Zac Gallen will start Saturday. However Ketel Marte and Carson Kelly are still not ready to return, and veteran Asdrubal Cabrera has no time table at this moment.

Listen to the link below to hear Torey Lovullo give the run down on all the injured players and the return of Madbum. He also discussed his thoughts on the second half of the season and the recent Covid outbreak on the Yankees roster. Bumgarner also spoke to the media and that’s included here as well.

Lovullo and Bumgarner audio [or link]


(highlighted pitcher name is link to baseball-reference page)

Friday, July 16th @ Chase Field, 6:40 P.M.

Kyle Hendricks: 105 IP, 11-4, 3.77 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 104 ERA+, 4.0 K/BB 1.7 HR/9

Hendricks got off to a terrible start, posting a 7.54 ERA in 5 April starts, giving up 10 homers in 23 innings. Since then however in 13 starts he is 10-1 with a 2.77 ERA. Hendricks is the poster boy for pitchers who succeed without velocity. His 87 MPH sinker is the slowest in MLB. But he has impeccable command, an elite spin rate curve ball, and a great changeup. Note that since June 21 and the new rules on sticky stuff his curveball spin rate only dropped very slightly from 2836 prior to 2816 since. And he’s been great his last couple of starts. So no impact for Hendricks we can see.

Madison Bumgarner: 59.2 IP, 5.73 ERA, 4.47 FIP, 72 ERA+, 3.44 K/BB, 1.5 HR9

On the IL for 44 days, since June 3rd with shoulder inflammation, Madbum said in the audio linked above that his return from the IL was delayed several weeks due to him pushing too hard to come back too quickly, suffering a set back. Even before the injury he feels he was perhaps throwing too much between starts, tinkering in bullpens and throwing too much long toss. He admitted he needs to back off and take care of his arm better. But he claims he feels fine now and “They got a handle on it”.

This is not a soft landing start for him. The Cubs hit left handed starters especially well. (.782 OPS compared to .666 OPS vs. RHSP). The Head to Head Matchups don’t look too bad but much of that data is several years old. Torey said that while he’s supposedly stretched out enough to “win a baseball game” he also said they would be mindful of his workload and be protective.

Saturday July 17 @ Chase Field 1:10 P.M.

Adbert Alzolay : 77.1 IP, 4-9, 4.60 ERA, 5.10 FIP, 85 ERA+, 3.68 K/BB, 2.1 HR/9

The 26 year old right hander from Venezuela has never faced the Diamondbacks. In his 3rd season, he has an elite slider, which he throws 44% of the time. If hitters can lay off that pitch, they’ve crushed his 94 MPH Sinkers and 4 seamers. See Statcast . The long ball has been the issue, especially lately as he’s given up two homeruns in each of his last 4 starts. Lefties have crushed him this year. 15 of his 18 homers allowed have come against LHB. Torey will surely load his lineup for this game.

TBA, but maybe Zac Gallen: 41 IP, 1-4, 4.17 ERA,, 4.12 FIP, 100 ERA+, 2.33 K/BB 1.1 HR/9

On the IL since July 3rd with a Hamstring injury, Gallen threw a bullpen yesterday and if there are no issues he might make the start Saturday. It’s been a lost season for Gallen. He began the season with a fractured elbow suffered during BP and spent the first two weeks of the year on the IL. Later he suffered a separate elbow injury from throwing, missing 5 weeks. After coming back from that he quite obviously struggled with control. Then he had the hamstring issue missing 2 more weeks. In all he’s spent 9 weeks of the year on the IL. Other than staying healthy obviously, Gallen needs to lower his walk rate to become a true top tier pitcher. (4.6/9 in 2021, 3.8/9 for his career).

Sunday, July 18th @ Chase Field,, 1:10 P.M.

Zach Davies 92.2 IP, 5-6, 4.37 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 90 ERA+, 1.23 K/BB, 0.9 HR/9

The 28 year old right hander already in his 7th season, signed a one year deal with the Cubs prior to 2021 and is now firmly on the trade block. Davies has relied on pinpoint command of his 88 MPH sinker and excellent changeup throughout his career. From 2016-2020 he had just a 2.5 BB/9 rate while averaging a 114 ERA+ in 650 IP. But this year that walk rate has nearly doubled to 4.7/9 . Never a guy with high strikeout rates, he simply can’t be effective walking that many. Like Hendricks he had a terrible April, allowing a 9.47 ERA in 5 starts and walking 15 in 19 innings. However in 14 subsequent starts he’s been much better, posting a 3.05 ERA in 73 IP. But he’s walked 33, or 4.1/9, in that span, which is still very high for him. Despite being around for a long time, there isn’t a lot of track record in the head to head matchups vs. current rostered D-backs hitters.

Merrill Kelly : 109 IP, 5-7, 4.46 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 93 ERA+, 3.44 K/9, 1.2 HR/9

Kelly has been the workhorse and most reliable starter for the D-backs in 2021. He’s pitched into the 6th inning of 15 of his 19 starts. He is the very definition of a league average innings eater that keeps his team in the game. As such he is quite valuable. With a $5M team option for 2022 he is probably a sought after commodity on the trade market. But with the challenges the team has faced with starting pitching injuries they may be very hesitant to move him unless some team offers more in a trade package than we are expecting.

This is a winnable series for the D-backs. With the Cubs giving signals the selloff has begun their players may be distracted. The pitching matchups in games 2&3 seem to favor Arizona, provided Gallen is fully recovered.