Thankfully, May is almost over. The brutal stretch in the schedule is close to being in the rear-view mirror, and things should get a bit easier in June. Famous last words, right?
After a nice 8-4 win on Monday, the Cubs were blanked two straight games against the Giants, losing 4-0 and 5-0 while only managing a total of eight hits in the two losses. The Cubs' record now stands at 19-32, leaving them as the only team in baseball to not yet have 20 wins. They are two games in the big-league cellar and surprisingly not looking directly up at the Houston Astros (23-32) but instead at the Arizona Diamondbacks (22-33).
With the West Coast swing completed, the Cubs make their second trip to Miller Park this season for another three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee comes into the series with a record of 32-22, three games ahead of St. Louis in the NL Central. They are in the middle of an eight-game homestand, having just taken two games out of three from the Baltimore Orioles. The Cubs won one game out of three in their first visit to Miller Park from April 25-27 with Jason Hammel recording the lone win in the series.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Friday - Travis Wood (5-4, 4.35 ERA, 1.258 WHIP) vs. Marco Estrada (4-2, 3.98 ERA, 1.131 WHIP)
Saturday - Jason Hammel (5-3, 3.08 ERA, 0.902 WHIP) vs. Wily Peralta (4-2, 2.12 ERA, 1.241 WHIP)
Sunday - Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 1.68 ERA, 1.067 WHIP) vs. Kyle Lohse (6-1, 2.92 ERA, 1.081 WHIP)
If you like pitchers' duels, this is probably the series for you. Milwaukee's starters come into this series with the fourth-best WHIP and fifth-best OPS against in the National League, and the Cubs will be facing their three best this weekend. The bullpen is sixth in WHIP, with the weakest link of the regulars being righty Tyler Thornburg (2.45 ERA, 1.286 WHIP). Closer Francisco Rodriguez (2.33 ERA, 0.926 WHIP) has been a bit shakier as of late, allowing six earned runs in his last six outings, but he still leads the National League with 17 saves.
The Brewers offense features five starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750:
- Carlos Gomez, CF, .987
- Ryan Braun, RF, .910
- Jonathan Lucroy, C, .878
- Khris Davis, LF, .779
- Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B, .757
The Brewers' bats have woken up since the last time the two teams met; they are now fifth in the National League in average, fourth in OPS and third in home runs. A lot of the credit for the surge goes to Gomez who, since April 27, has hit .352 with a 1.070 OPS. Aramis Ramirez (.699 OPS) is still on the disabled list with a strained hamstring and will not play in this series.
On the Cubs' side, Anthony Rizzo reclaims his spot at the top of the over-.750 club with an .830 OPS. Luis Valbuena slides to second at .803, while Starlin Castro and Junior Lake barely hang on to their membership cards at .754 and .752. Next highest on the list is Welington Castillo at .697 with a .297 OBP; he has hit safely in seven of his last eight games. Other than Emilio Bonifacio (.322 OBP), the rest of the starters are still bad. But you probably already knew that.
GAME PROJECTIONS: All three games in this series are encore matchups.
Game 1: The last time Estrada pitched against the Cubs, I made mention of his gopherball issue - namely that it probably wouldn't be a problem against the Cub offense - and he served up two of them in that game. He dubiously leads the league with 16 homers allowed in 61 innings. Wood won this matchup on May 18 at Wrigley and pitched very well in the process, allowing only two hits and three walks in seven innings.
Game 2: These two pitchers faced each other on April 27 at Miller Park. Hammel pitched seven strong in that game, giving up three hits and two walks in seven scoreless innings. Peralta also pitched well but not well enough, giving up eight hits and one walk over seven innings. He has only allowed more than two runs once in his last four starts, but has three losses to show for it. Maybe he's been hanging around Samardzija during off-days.
Game 3: This time an encore of the May 16 game at Wrigley, where Shark was not at his best, giving up nine baserunners and four runs - two earned - in five innings. Lohse pitched well enough for the win, allowing three runs over seven. This is probably the best pitching matchup of the series... it seems like there have been a lot of series so far where the best matchup is in the final game. And now that I've said that, the final score will be 9-8. You can choose your winner.
RUSS' PREDICTION: Once again, 1-2. The Cubs did manage to win two games against the Brewers at Wrigley, but that was with Gomez out serving his suspension. Needless to say, his replacement, Logan Schafer, was not quite as fearsome.
NEXT STOP: The Cubs return home for six games and begin a hopefully easier month of June with a three-game set against the New York Mets. Could another series win possibly be in the works?