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On the Horizon: Cubs vs. Dodgers Series Preview

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The Cubs head back out on the road and begin a six-game trip on the West Coast with their first games of the year against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The master of the bat flip.
The master of the bat flip.
Lisa Blumenfeld

I didn't get a chance to watch the game Thursday since I was at work, but I was monitoring Twitter most of the afternoon and I can say with confidence that watching the deals going down in rapid-fire fashion might have been more exciting than the Cubs' 3-1 win over the Rockies. The flurry of activity was pretty dizzying in that final hour, and the last-minute deal that sent James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves was definitely the icing on the cake to what was a madcap trade deadline. I do hope everything goes well for them in Atlanta; they have a chance to be part of not only a good division race, but an even better Wild Card race that currently has the Braves as part of a four-team field separated by one-half of a game.

With the deadline out of the way, it's back to the road again for six games as the Cubs head out to the West Coast for their first meeting of the year with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  After the 5-5 homestand, the Cubs' record now stands at 45-62 and they are once again out of the National League basement, pushing the Rockies back in it by 1½ games. The Dodgers have a 62-47 record and are riding a six-game win streak after sweeping the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves. The Cubs lost two out of three last year at Dodger Stadium and are 4-9 there since 2010.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Friday: Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 2.33 ERA, 1.190 WHIP) vs. Dan Haren (8-8, 4.49 ERA, 1.308 WHIP)
Saturday: Tsuyoshi Wada (1-1, 3.38 ERA, 1.313 WHIP) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (12-5, 3.44 ERA, 1.207 WHIP)
Sunday: Edwin Jackson (5-11, 5.79 ERA, 1.588 WHIP) vs. Josh Beckett (6-5, 2.74 ERA, 1.128 WHIP)

The Dodgers shifted their rotation around slightly coming into this series, opting to pitch Clayton Kershaw against the Braves on Thursday night instead of Friday night in the series opener. That's perfectly fine by me; the Braves are welcome to his 1.76 ERA and 0.810 WHIP. The Cubs will also not face Zack Greinke (2.65 ERA, 1.156 WHIP) in this series, but they will more than likely face one of the two, if not both, in mid-September since they play a four-game series the second time around.

While the Dodgers' starting rotation has been a major strength, their bullpen has been somewhat of a weakness; their pen is fourth-worst in the National League in ERA (3.72) and third-worst in WHIP (1.34). The main threat in the Dodger pen is southpaw J.P. Howell (1.21 ERA, 0.991 WHIP) who has allowed only 19 hits in just over 37 innings of work this season and has not given up a run since June 17. Closer Kenley Jansen (3.27 ERA, 1.182 WHIP) still strikes out a ton of batters (13.9 per nine innings), but hasn't been as lights-out as he normally is with batters hitting .234 against him this year, well above his career average of .171.

THE OFFENSE:

The Dodgers offense features five starters whose OPS is at or above .750:

  • Yasiel Puig, OF, .958
  • Hanley Ramirez, SS, .817
  • Matt Kemp, OF, .815
  • Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, .775
  • Juan Uribe, 3B, .756

There are plenty of offensive threats to be found in the Dodger lineup, which is second in the National League in batting average (.260) and OPS (.730) and third in runs per game (4.19). Kemp has been a monster the past two weeks, belting three homers and driving in 11 runs while hitting .436 with a 1.265 OPS. Puig has also been hot, with four triples and a 1.293 OPS in his last eight games.

The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):

  • Anthony Rizzo, .910 (1.103)
  • Chris Coghlan, .810 (.667)
  • Justin Ruggiano, .767 (.513)
  • Arismendy Alcantara, .764 (.607)
  • Luis Valbuena, .761 (.913)

Ruggiano has hit a bit of a skid, going 1-for-11 in the Colorado series and dropping his OPS 40 points. On the other side of the coin is Valbuena, who earned the homestand's Mr. Clutch award with three homers that either tied the game or gave the Cubs the lead.  Meanwhile, Starlin Castro is probably just happy to see July finally be over; his OPS dropped from .799 at the beginning of the month to its current level of .737, the lowest it has been since June 6.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: Haren is far and away the weakest link in the Dodgers' rotation. He was hit hard in all four of his July starts and didn't get out of the sixth inning in any of them, with his ERA climbing from 3.57 at the end of June to 4.49 after his last start on July 23. Hendricks has only allowed one run in his last two starts, but those were against San Diego and St. Louis; hopefully he'll be able to keep a much stronger Dodger lineup off-balance.

Game 2: Other than his start on July 8 where he was shellacked for 10 hits and seven runs in 2⅓ innings, Ryu has been solid since the middle of June. He has allowed three runs in two of his starts in that time span and two runs or less in his other five. The Dodgers are much weaker against lefty starters (.237 average, .687 OPS) than righties (.267 average, .744 OPS), so that should work in Wada's favor. I still worry that this game could be tough sledding, though.

Game 3: And then there's Jackson, he of the 105 pitches in four innings. As for Beckett, it's been a Jekyll-and-Hyde story for him in his past eight starts. In four of those starts he didn't allow a single run, and in the other four he gave up at least four runs in each of them. I guess it's a coin flip as to which Beckett will show up, although it probably won't matter in the end.

RUSS' PREDICTION: 1-2. It's going to depend heavily on Hendricks to get a win in this series. A Dodger sweep honestly would not surprise me one bit.

NEXT STOP: It's been a while since you've heard this line, but here it is again: the Cubs finish off their season series with the Colorado Rockies, playing them for the second time in a week. You've gotta love the scheduling.