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On the Horizon: Cubs vs. Brewers Series Preview

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The Cubs head back to Wrigley Field to finish their cycle of divisional games, starting out with three against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Milwaukee Brewers after their West Coast trip in one photo.
The Milwaukee Brewers after their West Coast trip in one photo.
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

I didn't get a chance to see much of Sunday's game, but saw a few flashes on my phone of the score during the day, namely the 5-0 lead early and the collapse of that lead at the end. Talk about having the wind taken out of your sails and put completely into theirs.

With the 9-6 loss on Sunday, the race at the top of the National League Central is deadlocked between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers, both at 73-63 thanks in part to a five-game slide that the Brewers are currently on. They are coming to Wrigley after a 1-5 trip on the West Coast that saw them get swept by the San Francisco Giants and lose two out of three to the San Diego Padres. Milwaukee and St. Louis are one game behind the Giants for the top Wild Card spot, and meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates are two games behind all of this and are heading to St. Louis for three games.

Long story short: This series between the Cubs and the Brewers is pretty big.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Monday: Jimmy Nelson (2-5, 4.10 ERA, 1.348 WHIP) vs. Jacob Turner (0-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.500 WHIP)
Tuesday: Yovani Gallardo (8-7, 3.26 ERA, 1.237 WHIP) vs. Jake Arrieta (7-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.052 WHIP)
Wednesday: Matt Garza (7-7, 3.58 ERA, 1.133 WHIP) vs. Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.91 ERA, 1.006 WHIP)

This will be Garza's first start since August 3 as he returns from the 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique. He threw a 47-pitch simulated game on Friday and is expected to be activated for Wednesday's game. This will also be the Cubs' first look at Nelson since 2013 when they faced him twice as a reliever. He has pitched four innings against the Cubs, allowing one hit and two walks. And then there's Gallardo, whose success against the Cubs is all too familiar. The matchup against Arrieta will be an encore of their matchup on August 11 that the Cubs lost 3-1 with both starters logging excellent outings.

THE OFFENSE:

It'd be a lot easier to say whose OPS isn't over .750 for the Brewers, but here's the list anyway:

  • Jonathan Lucroy, C, .844
  • Carlos Gomez, CF, .827
  • Ryan Braun, RF, .808
  • Aramis Ramirez, 3B, .803
  • Scooter Gennett, 2B, .799
  • Khris Davis, LF, .781

You can also add in backups / platoon partners Martin Maldonado (C, .772) and Rickie Weeks (2B, .756) for good measure and you're left with basically first base and shortstop as the only positions without much pop in the Brewers' lineup. They are coming off of a month of August in which they hit .255 with a .730 OPS as a team, a far cry from their .228 / .650 line that they put up in July. During their five-game losing streak, however, they have hit a dreadful .187 with a .521 OPS. But the potential is there for big things.

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

  • Anthony Rizzo, .889 (1.011)
  • Chris Coghlan, .782 (.654)
  • Starlin Castro, .771 (.870)
  • Luis Valbuena, .765 (1.034)

Valbuena once again has found his membership card into the club after an 8-for-26 road trip with a double and three homers. How long he'll get to keep it before becoming the first guy outside again is anyone's guess. Also, I haven't included Jorge Soler just yet, but just in case you're wondering about his OPS, it's a video-game level 1.829. Oh, and there's Logan Watkins at .952 as well in 21 plate appearances.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: My gut reaction to this game is "ugh". It's a pitcher that the Cubs haven't faced in a year and never as a starter, and Turner's first start for the Cubs was less than stellar against a much less powerful offense. Nelson has been pretty decent since the All-Star break, allowing three runs or less in five of his seven starts and posting game scores of 50 or better in six of those.

Game 2: And then we have the first of the pitchers' duels.  Since the last time the two pitchers met, Gallardo has had two outings in which he allowed a total of one run and a third outing in which he got lit up for six runs, three earned, allowing eight hits and three walks over five innings. Arrieta has been almost a carbon copy of Gallardo since that matchup, also with two outings in which he allowed only one run and a third in which he allowed six. The only major difference is that his six were all earned.

Game 3: Prior to his oblique injury Garza was on quite a roll, with five starts out of six in which he allowed two runs or less and four out of six in which he allowed a total of two runs. This will be the third matchup for the Cubs against Garza this season and the last two were both tough, with Garza posting game scores of 63 and 67 in those two outings. Hendricks still hasn't allowed more than two runs in a start since his debut on July 10, although there is the qualifier that one of those starts was the two-inning affair against Baltimore on August 23.

RUSS' PREDICTION: Yet another tough call. Milwaukee is coming into this series on a five-game slide and knowing that they can't afford to fall too far back since Pittsburgh is right there in the rear-view mirror. But it's Arrieta and Hendricks. But then again, it's also Gallardo. Ack!!

(Russ La Croix has just left the room. The default setting of 1-2 will now be applied.)

NEXT STOP: The homestand comes to a close as the Cubs finish the tour of the division with a three-game set against the Pirates. It should be very interesting to see what the playoff picture looks like then.