On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Padres Series Preview

If there's anyone to pitch around in this series, it's this guy. - Denis Poroy

After a deflating extra-inning loss to the New York Yankees, the Cubs begin a 10-game road trip with seven games on the West Coast, starting with a four-game set against the San Diego Padres.

Well, I guess it could have been worse. After all, it wasn't a walk-off balk. So we've got that going for us.

The winless streak for Jeff Samardzija now stands at 16 games after the Cubs snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, giving up two runs in the ninth en route to an eventual 4-2 loss in 13 innings. Missed opportunities and another high-leverage implosion from Jose Veras were the orders of the day, and the Cubs end up settling for a 1-1 split in the final two-game series of the year with the New York Yankees.

With the loss, the Cubs' record now stands at 16-28 and they take to the road for 10 games, beginning with a seven-game West Coast swing starting tonight with a four-game set against the San Diego Padres. San Diego comes into this series with a record of 21-26, fourth in the NL West and eight games behind the San Francisco Giants. The West Coast hasn't treated the Cubs well in recent years, and certainly not San Diego; the Cubs are 2-7 at PetCo Park in the last three years and haven't won a series there since 2010.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Thursday - Jake Arrieta (0-0, 2.70 ERA, 1.875 WHIP) vs. Eric Stults (2-4, 4.50 ERA, 1.565 WHIP)
Friday - Edwin Jackson (3-3, 3.98 ERA, 1.344 WHIP) vs. Robbie Erlin (3-4, 4.53 ERA, 1.301 WHIP)
Saturday - Travis Wood (4-4, 4.61 ERA, 1.335 WHIP) vs. Donn Roach (1-0, 3.75 ERA, 1.583 WHIP)
Sunday - Jason Hammel (5-2, 2.91 ERA, 0.903 WHIP) vs. Ian Kennedy (2-6, 3.79 ERA, 1.184 WHIP)

By now, you've probably read about Andrew Cashner (2.35 ERA, 1.203 WHIP) being on the disabled list with a sore elbow. Roach will be making his second start of his career in Cashner's place in the rotation; he had been pitching out of the bullpen prior to Cashner's injury. Also not pitching in this series will be Tyson Ross (2.64 ERA, 1.237 WHIP), who pitched in Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

The Padres' pen has five strong arms in it; closer Huston Street (0.50 ERA, 0.778 WHIP) is having another superb year, allowing only one run in 18 innings of work and logging a perfect 13-for-13 rate in save opportunities. The bullpen as a whole is second in the National League in ERA, WHIP, and OPS against. Basically, when the Padres get the lead, they get the job done.

And therein lies the problem for the Padres.

THE OFFENSE:

Everything you need to know about the Padres offense can be summed up right here:

That's right.  Only one player with an OPS above .750.  The rest of the Padres offense can be summed up in one word: brutal. Five regulars are hitting .206 or below, including Jedd Gyorko at second base with a .159 average, .212 on-base and .493 OPS. As a team, the Padres are scoring 3.02 runs per game, worst in all of baseball by a solid margin; the Atlanta Braves are 29th at 3.33 runs per game and the Cincinnati Reds are 28th at 3.56. They're last in the league in all four slash-line categories as well (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS), again by a decent margin in each case other than slugging. So if you were wondering if it could be worse, the answer is "yes", and you're seeing it here.

Not much changed for the Cubs in the two-game set against the Yankees; the over-.750-OPS club contains the same list of names, only in a different order. Anthony Rizzo continues to lead the way at .836; Luis Valbuena moves up to second at .802 with his current six-game hit streak; Starlin Castro slides down to third at .797; and Junior Lake hangs on to his membership at .759.

As was pointed out in the recap to Wednesday's game, the Cubs are now hitting a horrendous .198 with runners in scoring position, worst in all of baseball. The only solace to this statistic is that San Diego is hitting .199 in the same situation. Chaos - or hilarity - should ensue if anyone manages to get past first base in this series.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: The Thursday matchup depends once again on the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of Arrieta. His three starts so far have all been short and his last two have been less than impressive, yet he's managed to walk away relatively unscathed. The fact that the Wednesday game went 13 innings won't help matters. Stults is the weak link on the Padres side, but has put together two decent starts in a row against Miami and Colorado.

Game 2: I've talked plenty about Jackson in prior articles; he's had three good starts in a row, including his best in arguably a year and a half in his last start. The scenario can't get much better than this for him to get a fourth consecutive good one. Erlin has also had two good starts in his last three, but his last start against Colorado wasn't that great (nine hits, four runs in five innings).

Game 3: As for Saturday, Wood will be looking to build on the strong outing he had in his last start against Milwaukee, while the Padres will probably be hoping that Roach is a little more stretched out for this game than he was in his last start (three innings, 46 pitches). He was a full-time starter in 2013 at Double-A San Antonio, so it's not new to him by any means.

Game 4: The finale should feature the best pitching matchup of the series. Hammel will look to notch another great start for his trade-deadline resume, while Kennedy will be looking to rebound from back-to-back rough starts against Cincinnati and Minnesota.

RUSS' PREDICTION: 2-2. I think the Cubs could walk out of here with three wins, but I just can't call it, especially given the Cubs' lack of success anywhere in the Pacific time zone. It will depend a lot on the offense, and there's just too much streakiness there to count on anything.

NEXT STOP: The West Coast swing comes to a close with a three-game set against the leaders of the NL West, the San Francisco Giants. All I can say is: be afraid. Be very afraid.

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