I'm starting to sense a trend here... play a team, win one game. Is that how it's supposed to be done? Something tells me that's not right, but I'm not sure. I'll check into it and get back to you.
For the ninth time in the first 39 games, the Chicago Cubs won one game in a series, losing yesterday to the St. Louis Cardinals by a final score of 5-3. A golden opportunity in the eighth inning went for naught when pinch-hitter (or pinch-something) Nate Schierholtz did the most probable thing with the bases loaded: grounded out to second base. The Cubs' record now stands at 13-26; as Al mentioned in his recap, that is the fourth-worst record for the team through 39 games since 1900. Only 1953, 1966, and 1981 have been worse.
The painstaking quest for a second series win continues back home at Wrigley, where the Cubs start a five-game homestand with three games against the Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee comes into this series with a record of 26-15 after having just finished a 5-4 homestand against Arizona, Pittsburgh, and the New York Yankees. The Cubs are 1-2 against Milwaukee this year and have a staggering 11-28 record against them since 2012, including a 5-12 record at Wrigley. That should inspire some confidence, don't you think?
Eh, maybe not.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Friday - Kyle Lohse (4-1, 2.75 ERA, 1.127 WHIP) vs. Jeff Samardzija (0-3, 1.45 ERA, 1.054 WHIP)
Saturday - Matt Garza (2-3, 4.98 ERA, 1.447 WHIP) vs. Edwin Jackson (2-3, 4.56 ERA, 1.437 WHIP)
Sunday - Marco Estrada (3-1, 3.28 ERA, 1.095 WHIP) vs. Travis Wood (3-4, 4.91 ERA, 1.427 WHIP)
The Cubs get a bit of a break here as they get to face Garza, who is the Brewers' worst starter by a decent margin at the moment. Their rotation as a whole is strong (third in NL in WHIP, fourth in OPS against), but that's pretty much the case across the entire NL Central right now other than Pittsburgh. The bullpen is lights-out, including lefties Zach Duke (1.56 ERA, 0.923 WHIP) and Will Smith (0.47 ERA, 1.138 WHIP), and then there's the resurgent Francisco Rodriguez, who's pitching possibly better than he has in his entire career (1.64 ERA, 0.773 WHIP, 16 saves in 17 opportunities). Basically, it's another score-early-or-else scenario, similar to Atlanta.
The Brewers offense features three starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750:
Milwaukee's offense is near the league average in most major categories (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, runs per game) and is certainly a step up from what the Cubs faced against Atlanta and St. Louis. One noticeable absence in this series will be third baseman Aramis Ramirez (.699 OPS), who is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring. The weak link in the Brewers offense continues to be shortstop Jean Segura, who is posting a .273 OBP and a .617 OPS, almost exactly the same as the first time the teams met. His backup, Jeff Bianchi, is... well... he's pretty bad right now. Okay, really bad (.208 OBP, .386 OPS). Left fielder Khris Davis is also struggling with a .257 OBP and a .658 OPS. Then again, those numbers would play pretty well in the Cubs' outfield right now, so I guess I shouldn't poke too much fun.
On the Cubs side, Luis Valbuena has re-joined Anthony Rizzo (.873 OPS) and Starlin Castro (.808 OPS) in the over-.750 OPS club; Valbuena currently sits at .761 (with a .365 OBP to boot). Several others are hovering around the .700 mark, including Emilio Bonifacio at .712 with a .350 OBP. But the outfield... man, the outfield. It's just ugly (14th in the National League in OBP and OPS), and it doesn't seem any relief is in sight. But at least they have five homers now!
The Friday game looks like it's going to be a low-scoring affair. The weather looks blah (high 40s, winds blowing in a bit, chance of rain), and with two hot hands on the mound, don't expect a lot of runs. Oh, and dress in layers. And bring some blankets. And some more layers. You get the idea.
The Saturday matchup will feature slightly better weather and somewhat worse pitching, although Jackson has managed to have a string of several not-horrible starts as of late. Al's advice about heavy bunting seems like a good plan here. And if you're sitting on the first-base side... well, just keep your eyes open. All the time. (This has been a public service announcement from On The Horizon.)
As for Sunday... well, I'd be worried. The Brewers don't necessarily hit lefties any harder than righties, but Wood hasn't been inspiring much confidence as of late, and about the only thing that's been a knock on Estrada this season is his tendency to give up the gopherball (10 HR in 49 innings). Something tells me that's not going to be a problem for him in this matchup.
RUSS' PREDICTION: It's worked so far, and I don't see any reason to deviate from it now: 1-2.
NEXT STOP: The five-game homestand comes to a close with the New York Yankees looking to finish what they started in the Bronx. With Masahiro Tanaka as one of the likely starters, it may not be that tough of a task for them.