Thanks to another spectacular(ly bad) performance by Edwin Jackson on Thursday, the Cubs split their four-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers and ended up at 3-4 on the seven-game homestand. Honestly, given that the seven games were against the Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays, I feel pretty happy with that result. With the homestand over, the Cubs' record now stands at 52-68, one-half game ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks (52-69) and one-half game behind the Philadelphia Phillies (53-68) in the National League reverse standings race. The Colorado Rockies continue to sink further into the basement at 47-74, now five games behind Arizona.
In what seems to have been a "well, we can't find anywhere else to put it; let's shoehorn it in here" scheduling maneuver, the Cubs now take to the road for four games against the New York Mets in a series that ends on Monday. It's a bit of a head-scratcher, that's for sure. The Mets come into the series at 57-65, currently sitting on a three-game losing streak after being swept by the Washington Nationals. The Cubs have won three consecutive series at Citi Field going back to 2011, winning two games out of three each time.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Friday: Travis Wood (7-9, 4.86 ERA, 1.525 WHIP) vs. Zack Wheeler (7-8, 3.53 ERA, 1.333 WHIP)
Saturday: Dan Straily (Cubs debut) vs. Jon Niese (6-8, 3.46 ERA, 1.271 WHIP)
Sunday: Jake Arrieta (6-4, 2.77 ERA, 1.051 WHIP) vs. Rafael Montero (0-3, 6.12 ERA, 1.640 WHIP)
Monday: Kyle Hendricks (4-1, 1.73 ERA, 1.008 WHIP) vs. Bartolo Colon (11-10, 3.85 ERA, 1.153 WHIP)
The Cub rotation is undergoing a bit of a change as Straily will be making his debut as a Cub on Saturday, pushing Arrieta and Hendricks to Sunday and Monday according to Carrie Muskat. Straily had a 1-2 record with a 4.93 ERA and a 1.252 WHIP in seven starts for the Oakland Athletics this season and he was 3-3 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.282 WHIP in seven starts at Triple-A Iowa. Does this spell the end of the line for Edwin Jackson? Only time will tell.
The only Mets starter of the four listed who the Cubs have previously faced this season is Wheeler. In his start against the Cubs June 3 he allowed only two hits and two walks over 6⅔ scoreless innings, but the Cubs ended up winning the game 2-1 thanks to a walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth from Nate Schierholtz. Yes, you did read that correctly.
The Mets offense features two starters whose OPS is at or above .750:
- Lucas Duda, 1B, .833
- Daniel Murphy, 2B, .777
Nothing has changed on the Met list since the Cubs last played them in early June. They're still struggling to hit, sitting next to last in the National League in batting average (.238) and OPS (.666). The month of August really has not been kind to them as they are hitting .222 with a .570 OPS as a team, led by Murphy at .345 / .853 and Travis d'Arnaud at .231 / .808. After that... well, it's pretty ugly. Feel free to look at your own risk.
The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):
- Anthony Rizzo, .888 (.668)
- Chris Coghlan, .835 (1.001)
- Javier Baez, .800 (.800)
- Starlin Castro, .762 (1.002)
Still sitting just outside of the doors is Justin Ruggiano at .748, but Luis Valbuena continues to fade, stuck in a 1-for-29 rut in his last nine games which has dropped his OPS to .728. Arismendy Alcantara also had a rough homestand, going 3-for-24 against the Brewers and Rays to bring his OPS down to .648. Hopefully he'll be able to bounce back over the course of the final 42 games of the season.
Game 1: Wheeler has been a very tough customer since the end of June. He has recorded eight consecutive quality starts -- seven of which he allowed two runs or less -- and his lowest game score in those eight starts was 54. Wood has been slowly getting better since his five-inning outing against St. Louis on July 25, and his game score of 64 in his last outing against Tampa Bay was the best he's had since the Philadelphia outing on June 15. The Mets do hit lefty starters (.261 average, .715 OPS) better than righties (.232 average, .655 OPS), so Wood will really need to be sharp for the Cubs to have a chance here.
Game 2: Niese has been been struggling since returning from a strained shoulder that put him on the disabled list on July 6. Since his return, he has only had one quality start and only two starts in which he has allowed three runs or less. That quality start did come in his last outing, however, so maybe things are beginning to turn around for him again. As for Straily, the big issue for him this year has been the longball. In his seven starts for Oakland he gave up nine homers in just over 38 innings of work. That's... not good. His time at Iowa was better in that regard, though, only allowing four in 39 innings. Here's hoping that he impresses in his first National League appearance.
Game 3: This will be Montero's second start since returning from Triple-A Las Vegas on August 12. He did have four starts earlier in the season, one of which was very good and three that were not so good. His August 12 outing against the Nationals was forgettable, allowing five runs and seven hits in five innings of work for a game score of 35. Arrieta rebounded nicely from the Colorado debacle on August 6 and has now allowed two runs or less in 13 of his 18 starts this season.
Game 4: It's the battle of age vs. youth, with Colon posting quality starts in five of his last seven appearances while Hendricks rides a five-game quality start streak of his own. Don't expect to see too many Cubs draw a walk in this game; Colon has only allowed 21 walks all year and has not given up more than two in a game since June 2.
RUSS' PREDICTION: 2-2. But I think more important than the result of the series will be how the storylines play out after it's over. Will Straily stick around? What about Jacob Turner? Will this be the beginning of a Wood rebound? And how many starts will Arrieta and Hendricks have before they get shut down, if they get shut down at all?
NEXT STOP: The easy part of the schedule comes to an end and the Cubs spend their final 38 games of the season against divisional opponents and non-divisional teams with winning records. First up on the docket will be the final three games of the year against the San Francisco Giants.