On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Giants Series Preview

I wonder if they'd take their old right-fielder back and give us this guy instead. - Thearon W. Henderson

The Cubs split a four-game series in San Diego with a 4-1 loss to the Padres, and they continue their West Coast swing with a three-game set against the San Francisco Giants.

Well, that went pretty much the way I would have expected. A couple of good games, a couple of bad games, and a split against a sub-.500 team with not much offense.

After getting a 1-0 lead thanks to a home run by Junior Lake that he wasn't sure he actually hit out of the park, Jason Hammel found himself in trouble in the sixth and the bullpen made sure to let all of his runners cross the plate on the way to a 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. The loss moves the Cubs' record to 18-30, second-worst in the league and only two percentage points ahead of the Houston Astros (19-32).

The West Coast swing comes to a close as the Cubs journey up the coast for a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco comes into this series with the best record in baseball at 32-18, currently riding a four-game win streak after sweeping the Minnesota Twins over the weekend. Believe it or not, the Cubs actually swept the Giants at AT&T Park last year, winning three straight one-run games and allowing a grand total of three runs in that series. I'm pretty sure that the results this time around will be a little different.

Or a lot different.

And not in a good way, either.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Monday - Jeff Samardzija (0-4, 1.46 ERA, 1.088 WHIP) vs. Yusmeiro Petit (3-1, 4.76 ERA, 1.294 WHIP)
Tuesday - Jake Arrieta (1-0, 2.33 ERA, 1.552 WHIP) vs. Tim Hudson (4-2, 2.13 ERA, 0.884 WHIP)
Wednesday - Edwin Jackson (3-4, 4.94 ERA, 1.440 WHIP) vs. Tim Lincecum (4-3, 4.55 ERA, 1.608 WHIP)

If there's a weakness for the Giants - and for a 32-18 team it's hard to say that anything is a weakness - it would be their starting pitching, which is merely average in the National League (sixth in ERA, seventh in WHIP, 11th in OPS against). Matt Cain (3.66 ERA, 1.221 WHIP) will miss his start with a strained hamstring; Petit will be replacing Cain for the third time this season.

The bullpen is among the best in the National League (second in ERA, first in WHIP, second in OPS against), and a big part of their success is due to the performance of Jean Machi (0.37 ERA, 0.863 WHIP) who has allowed only one earned run in just over 24 innings of work. Closer Sergio Romo (3.27 ERA, 0.773 WHIP) has also been solid, recording 16 saves in 18 opportunities. The Giants are without setup man Santiago Casilla (1.37 ERA, 1.025 WHIP) who is on the 15-day disabled list, also with a strained hamstring.

THE OFFENSE:

The Giants offense features six starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750 (yikes!):

Well, this could be a problem.

While the Giants don't hit for average all that well (11th in the National League at .243), they are one of the best power-hitting teams (second in home runs, fourth in OPS). The weak link on the team is actually Pablo Sandoval (.227 average, .671 OPS), but he is the only Giant starter whose OPS is under the .700 mark. That must be a nice feeling; it's certainly something the Cubs haven't seen for a few years.

The over-.750 club continues to have the same quartet of players for the Cubs, but they have a new bandleader after the San Diego series. Luis Valbuena continues to ride the hot hand in the month of May and now leads the team with an .834 OPS. Right behind him is Anthony Rizzo at .832, followed by Junior Lake at .786 and Starlin Castro at .776. It's been a while since I mentioned Emilio Bonifacio, and the return to reality continues for him as his OBP is now down to .318. That's not great for a leadoff hitter, and if it falls too much farther his usefulness at the top of the order will really start to be diminished.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: I don't know how many times I can write that Samardzija is due for a win before it actually happens. He's still best in all of baseball in ERA and still worst in run support (RS/GS), so eventually something's gotta give. But I've said that before and it didn't mean anything those times, either. Facing Petit instead of Cain is a bit of a plus for the Cubs; he had a good start against San Diego but was knocked around pretty hard by Pittsburgh and Miami.

Game 2: Hudson has been having his best year since -- possibly, ever -- and has not allowed more than two runs in any of his last six starts. Arrieta had his best, and longest, start of the year in his last start against San Diego. He's going to need more of the same for the Cubs to have a chance here.

Game 3: The matchup for this game is... well, it's not good on either side. Lincecum has been streaky for the Giants and has thrown a lot of pitches in his last three starts (average 113 per game). In two of those games the 110-plus pitch count only got him through six innings of work. As for Jackson, he went from his best start of the year two starts ago to his worst start of the year in his last one. I guess this means that this start should split the difference and be somewhere in the area of "meh".

RUSS' PREDICTION: 1-2. Somehow the offense will find a way to take advantage of one of the subpar starters and allow the Cubs to squeak out of San Francisco with one win. Or at least that's what I'm going to tell myself to make me feel better about these next few days.

NEXT STOP: The road trip comes to a close as the Cubs visit the neighbors to the north once again, making their second trip to Milwaukee for a three-game series with the Brewers. Maybe this one will go better than the last one.

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