Series Preview: Braves vs Cubs

(It’s July?  Time to scout the Cubs! – Every GM, probably.)

The Braves are winding down what has turned out to be a roller coaster of a first half in the perfect place to round out: Chicago.  More specifically, versus the Chicago Cubs, current owners of a 39-52 record and last place in a very competitive NL Central.

The last time we saw the Cubs, the Braves mercifully swept them in Atlanta, and since then, the Cubs have made a couple of big roster shakeups.

Trading Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija has flipped their pitching staff upside down, with tonight’s starter Jake Arrieta becoming their immediate number 1 starter.  And with good reason, as the tall, 28 year old righty has tossed 70 innings of 2.09 FIP ball, striking out 10.1 batters per 9, and walking 2.4 per nine.  As a matter of fact, he’s given up just 5 runs since the beginning of June.  And on top of ALL that, a sparkling 0.3 HR/9 rate (he’s surrendered just 2 this year).  Low walk rate, very high strikeout rate, homeruns almost non-existent?  Is it just me, or does this guy have a lot in common with the box score of a Braves loss?

Behind Arrieta are the glowing mediocrity of the rest of the Cubs rotation, headlined by the $52MM man in Edwin Jackson.  To be fair, I’m a bit biased, as I’ve always thought of Jackson as one of the most overrated pitchers in the game.  But the 4.0 BB/9 and a 1.525 WHIP don’t seem to be much in his favor.  Behind him is Travis Wood, who caught his big break last season, earning an All-Star nod along with a 3.11 ERA in 200 innings.  But they honeymoon is over for Wood, and his luck is no longer making his numbers superficial. The Braves should be cautious, but overall should be in good shape to win the starting pitching battles.

The Cubs bullpen is intriguing, and for different reasons.  One is that they are bad.  No two ways around it, the only above average members of the Cubs bullpen are lefties James Russell and Wesley Wright.  The second is that these are the very two players the Braves have been scouting to reinforce their bullpen for the home stretch.  And this is a positive thing, as Luis Avilan is further proving that he should not be trusted with high leverage situations.

Anthony Rizzo, who recently beat out Justin Upton in the All-Star Final Vote, is CRUSHING this year, second in the National League in homers with 20 and sporting an fantastic 145 wRC+.  Starlin Castro is enjoying a nice bounceback season after an awful 2013 (good for the Cubs, who owe him $43MM over the next 5 years), earning an All-Star nod himself with 11 homers and a .773 OPS so far this season.  Behind them isn’t much, as expected for this seemingly forever rebuilding Cubs team.  Braves pitching don’t have much to worry about; Don’t let Castro get on base, pitch around Rizzo, and don’t try to sneak anything by Mike Olt.  Olt is a former top prospect, who if anything, knows how to hit balls very, very far, even if it doesn’t happen that often.  He has a dozen homers so far in 2014, despite utility man Luis Valbuena receiving the majority of at bats at third base.  Neutralize these potential threats, and the Braves can roll into the break with a series win.

Game 1:

4:05 PM EST, Friday, July 11th

Probables:  Alex Wood (6-7, 3.14 ERA) vs Jake Arrieta (5-1, 1.78 ERA)

 (Oh man, the game starts at 4?!?!  Sorry for the late post everyone)

Game 2:

4:05 PM EST, Saturday, July 12th

Probables:  Mike Minor (2-5, 4,54) vs Edwin Jackson (5-9, 5.05 ERA)

 Game 3:

2:20 PM EST, Sunday, July 12th

Probables:  Julio Teheran (8-6, 2.57 ERA) vs Travis Wood (7-7, 4.64 ERA)