On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Marlins Series Preview

This is a familiar pose for Giancarlo Stanton. - Eliot J. Schechter

After a sweep of the New York Mets, the Cubs finish the six-game homestand with their first three games of the year against the Miami Marlins.

Okay, for all of you who predicted a sweep of the Mets, I tip my hat to you. And I would also like you to provide me with the winning numbers in the next Powerball drawing. I'll even split it with you; that's how nice I am.

After seeing a 4-2 lead disappear courtesy of a two-run homer off of Justin Grimm, the Cubs rallied back behind the bats of Anthony Rizzo and Junior Lake to finish off the Mets by a final score of 7-4. With the sweep, the Cubs' record stands at 23-34 and they escape the major-league basement, pushing the slumping Tampa Bay Rays (23-38) and their 10-game losing streak in behind them.

The six-game homestand comes to a conclusion with a three-game weekend set against the Miami Marlins. Miami comes into the series with a record of 32-28, tied for the lead in the National League East. They are currently on a four-game winning streak, having just completed a sweep of the aforementioned Rays. The Cubs were 4-3 last year against Miami, but lost two of three at Wrigley Field.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Friday - Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.24 ERA, 1.173 WHIP) vs. Jason Hammel (6-3, 2.78 ERA, 0.869 WHIP)
Saturday - Randy Wolf (1-1, 3.38 ERA, 1.125 WHIP) vs. Jeff Samardzija (1-5, 2.54 ERA, 1.154 WHIP)
Sunday - Henderson Alvarez (3-3, 2.62 ERA, 1.282 WHIP) vs. Jake Arrieta (1-1, 3.00 ERA, 1.600 WHIP)

There will be some tough matchups in this series for the Cubs, as Eovaldi and Alvarez have allowed three runs or less in each of their last three starts. Wolf - yeah, that Randy Wolf - has taken over for Jose Fernandez, who is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late May. He has had two starts, one good against the Rays and one bad against the Brewers.

As for the Marlins' bullpen, they somehow have a 12-10 record while racking up a league-worst 1.485 WHIP and second-worst .745 OPS against. Other than closer Steve Cishek (2.55 ERA, 1.176 WHIP), there is no one in the Marlin pen with a WHIP under 1.250. Pitching wins are a strange thing.

THE OFFENSE:

The Marlins offense features four starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750:

You all know about that first guy on the list. He's having a monster season so far, with a National League-leading 17 homers and 53 runs batted in. The firepower certainly doesn't stop there, as Miami is second in the league in runs per game, batting average and OPS. Pitching mistakes will be punished. Severely.

There's a new sheriff in town on the Cubs' side, as Travis Wood takes over the OPS lead at .924 -- wait, that doesn't count? Okay, fine... it's only in 27 plate appearances. So I guess it's still Anthony Rizzo at .880, with his trusty sidekick Luis Valbuena at .827 and ever-hanging-on Starlin Castro at .751.  Also in the world of limited plate appearances, Justin Ruggiano has silently moved up to .729. Special mention to Chris Coghlan (.554), who is due to hit his next homer sometime in 2016. No word as to what team he'll be playing for when he does.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: I think I've run out of superlatives for Hammel. He has only allowed more than three runs once in 11 starts and pitched a gem in his last start at Milwaukee. The bullpen will be a bit tired, so hopefully he'll be able to go deep in this one.

Game 2: Fun fact about Wolf: After not pitching at all in 2013, he has been signed and released twice this year already, once by the Seattle Mariners and again by the Arizona Diamondbacks. With the success that the Cubs have had against lefty starters (.262 average, .746 OPS), maybe his third stint with Miami won't be all that long, either.

Game 3: I'm pretty sure that, somehow, Arrieta has found a way to channel Harry Houdini when he takes the mound. I can find no other explanation for how he has allowed only 11 runs in his six starts; it seems like he should have given up twice as many. They always say it's better to be lucky than good, but against Alvarez I'm not sure how well that's going to work.

RUSS' PREDICTION: 2-1. I think the Cubs will ride the momentum of the sweep and end the homestand with five wins out of six. Hey, if the Astros can win seven in a row, anything is possible.

NEXT STOP: It's time for another 10-game road trip as the Cubs make two stops in Pennsylvania, starting with a four-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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