Series Preview: Chicago Cubs (25-35) at Pittsburgh Pirates (29-33)

In Series Previews, Uncategorized by berselius

The Cubs just finished a 5-1 homestand, which was nice to see and had people half-ironically pointing out that the team was only 5 or 6 games out in the Wild Card. But we all know what this version of the team is. I felt a lot better though upon seeing several members of the Houston Astros org patting themselves on the back for their latest surge:


Congrats to the Astros on their recent hot streak and their newly called up prospects, but for fuck’s sake it’s not like they just took the lead in the AL Central. They’re 11.5 games back, have a .438 winning percentage, a -39 run differential, and are only about 2 games ahead of the Cubs in the standings. Let’s pump the brakes here a bit, fellas. You’ve had three number one draft picks in a row. At best you can maybe say you’re doing better than the Chuck LaMar era Devil Rays. Scott Feldman is your ace. You just signed Kyle Farnsworth to take a prominent role in your bullpen.


Team Overviews


  • wRC+: 82 (14th)
  • BSR: 0.9 (6th)
  • SP FIP-: 83 (1st)
  • RP FIP-: 89 (5th)
  • UZR: 5.5 (5th)
  • DRS: 3 (11th)
  • Run differential: -9 (9th)


  • wRC+: 100 (4th)
  • BSR: -2.4 (14th)
  • SP FIP-: 118 (15th)
  • RP FIP-: 106 (13th)
  • UZR: -21.2 (15th)
  • DRS: 20 (4th)
  • Run differential: -20 (13th)

Wow, I had no idea the Pirates pitching was struggling so much this year. A decent portion of that is due to six starts from Wandy Rodriguez, who is a shell of his former self and is no longer with the team, and Edinson Volquez, who is Edinson Volquez. While it doesn’t contribute to their FIP numbers, Jeff Locke and Brandon Cumpton have also been hit a lot harder than their fielding independent numbers suggest. The front end of the Pirates bullpen is still pretty good, even with Jason Grilli‘s struggles, but the back half of the pen has been extremely hittable. This decline in their bullpen numbers is probably very attributable to the decline in their starters numbers, their lousier pitchers are getting more innings. This probably has something to do with the Cubs bullpen’s resurgence this year too.

News, notes, injuries, etc.

The Cubs will miss Pirates ace Gerrit Cole this series, as he is on the DL with shoulder fatigue. From the sounds of it no one in the org is too worried and he’ll be back as soon as he is eligible.

Ike Davis kicked ass and took names after coming over from the Mets, but he’s cooled off a ton since then. Starling Marte is working on a 0-23 streak, and was benched for most of last week as he worked with the team’s hitting coach.

Another day, another Kris Bryant HR. He now has 21 HRs on the year. It’s kind of funny that the Cubs have a logjam at 3B in AAA, with Bryant, Olt, and Villanueva all needing PAs there.

Len Kasper wrote a great piece for the Daily Herald detailing his struggles with anxiety and depression. This is where we’re supposed to make a Serious Sounding Appeal to people to Get Help and then forget about it, so I’ll skip that and just say that depression etc. is more common than you think, and the meds are very effective these days.

Brett took a look around at the post-draft landscape, now that the dust has settled, and it looks like most people agree that the Cubs had a good draft. I’m still not sure that I’m one of them, but like I know anything about these players. I also don’t take much stock in what Jason McLeod said about the draft, of course he’s going to say it was a good one. It’s a fine line between the Cubs ‘getting the guys they wanted’ and the chain of logic that defends things like the Hayden Simpson selection, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. FWIW Jason Parks liked the Cubs draft #studpidhashtagmeme

Probable pitchers

Don’t have time to do writeups for the pitchers today. No dinner for me tonight.

EDIT: Myles is writing these writeups.

ERA, xFIP, projected FIP listed for each pitcher.

Monday: Edwin Jackson, RHP (4.59, 3.75, 3.69) vs Charlie Morton, RHP (3.31, 4.20, 4.08), 6:05 PM CT

In Edwin’s last 3 starts, he’s pitched 14.1 innings, walking 9 and striking out 16. He’s also allowed 3 HR. Combine those less-than-rosy FIP indicators with a .366 BABIP, and you have a recipe for disaster; he’s allowed 14 runs in those 14.1 innings. It sure seems like Jackson’s been hit hard this year. His LD% stands at 27.9, which is #1 in the majors with not just one bullet, but several.

Charlie Morton has been terrible this year, with a K%-BB% of 7.8%. That’s really bad, the result of walking a good amount of players but striking out very few. Considering that Morton has a .279 BABIP, we should expect him to get hit very hard today. For posterity’s sake, this was posted before Morton throws a CGSHO.

Tuesday: Travis Wood, LHP (5.04, 4.36, 4.16) vs Francisco Liriano, LHP (4.54, 3.58, 3.33), 6:05 PM CT

Travis Wood’s FIP is only 8 points higher than it was last year. his ERA is 197 points higher than it was last year. What happened? There are two primary causes. The first is the regression to the mean for BABIP. Wood’s figure last year was .248, which seems crazily low but was more-or-less in line with his career average. Now that the rate is .307, he’s been much less hit-lucky. Pair that with a precipitously falling LOB% (from 77.4 last year to 65.5 this year), and the purely anecdotal hypothesis that every runner he’s passed on to his bullpen seems to score (I invite research on the subject), and you start to see why his ERA is north of 5 on the season. Hitters have feasted on his secondary offerings all season.

Francisco Liriano enjoyed a career renaissance last season, but has fallen largely into the same old mold this season. Frankie didn’t keep his walk rate down like he had last year, which has led to a 25 point WHIP increase. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s shown up in FIP, which is at 3.93 this year. Liriano is the type of pitcher that would normally chew the Cubs up; hopefully they can draw their walks against him, but I doubt it.

Wednesday: Jason Hammel, RHP (2.53, 3.45, 3.74) vs Brandon Cumpton, RHP (6.51, 4.27, 4.23), 6:05 PM CT

Hammel has been the Cubs’ best starter this season, which is fairly surprising. Part of the reason for his success is BABIP magic, sure, but his underlying peripherals have also been solid. He’s kept the walks way down, as well as the HRs. He’s really pounded the low outside corner against RHP, and it’s kept him ahead in counts all year. When you watch this game, keep that in mind; if he can spot the ball there with consistency, it’ll be a long day for Pittsburgh.

Brandon Cumpton has beeb rocked this year. I saw him a few times for AAA Indianapolis last season, and he looked like a AAAA pitcher. He’s failed to strikeout even 12% of batters; if he was eligible, his 11.9% mark would put him at 4th in the league. MLB players hit .319 off of him. He is tailor-made for the Cubs to rock.

Thursday: Jeff Samardzija, RHP (2.54, 3.27, 3.37) vs Edinson Volquez, ROY (4.27, 4.20, 4.36), 6:05 PM CT

Shark rebounded very nicely from his very poor outing two turns ago, and he’s been worthy of down-ballot Cy consideration on the year. While there’s no argument for him to be starting the All-Star Game (there’s no facet of the game in which Adam Wainwright doesn’t outclass him), he (alongside Hammel) should both pitch in it. Shark’s K’s have fallen precipitously on the season, but the drop is intentional, as he uses his splitter more and more sparingly. He induces over 50% ground balls on the year, an excellent mark, and he has consistently chewed up innings. Enjoy him while you can.

Edinson Volquez is Edinson Volquez.

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