You'll have to forgive me for waxing a little sentimental, but for me personally it's kind of neat that the Cubs end the season against the Milwaukee Brewers primarily because that's where my journey as a BCB writer began back on April 24. It's been quite the adventure for me this season, as I've probably been more in tune with the Cubs this year than I have in any previous year ever. Hopefully this feature is better now than it was then, but I'm not the arbiter of my own work. More than anything else I hope that you have enjoyed reading it throughout the season and have found it beneficial.
But enough sappiness; there's one series left to be played before the 2014 season comes to a close.
After the series win against the St. Louis Cardinals in the final games at Wrigley Field this season the Cubs' record moves to 71-88, and with one more win they will have their best record since 2010. In the 2015 draft pick race, the Cubs are guaranteed to have a protected first-round pick and it can still mathematically fall anywhere between fifth (Minnesota Twins, 68-91) and 10th (Cincinnati Reds, 74-85).
With the Brewers' 5-3 loss to the Reds on Thursday afternoon they are now eliminated from playoff contention, meaning that this series is now for pride more than anything else. The Cubs can win the season series against Milwaukee for the first time since 2010 with a sweep this weekend, but you have to go that far back to find the last time the Cubs actually swept a three-game series at Miller Park (April 23-25, 2010). But hey, in the final weekend anything can happen, right?
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Friday: Eric Jokisch (0-0, 1.74 ERA, 1.452 WHIP) vs. Jimmy Nelson (2-8, 4.57 ERA, 1.446 WHIP)
Saturday: Tsuyoshi Wada (4-3, 3.22 ERA, 1.197 WHIP) vs. Wily Peralta (16-11, 3.62 ERA, 1.320 WHIP)
Sunday: Kyle Hendricks (7-2, 2.46 ERA, 1.083 WHIP) vs. Mike Fiers (6-4, 1.92 ERA, 0.853 WHIP)
Matt Garza was originally scheduled to start the series opener on Friday but is being scratched with shoulder tightness according to Daniel Kramer at MLB.com. The Cubs have faced Nelson and Fiers once each this year and split those two games, winning 4-2 and losing 6-2. From the land of strange happenings: This will be the fourth time that the Cubs will be facing Peralta this year and the Brewers have not scored a single run in any of his previous three starts, losing the three games by a combined score of 15-0.
The Brewers currently have six starters whose OPS is at or above .750:
- Jonathan Lucroy, C, .841
- Carlos Gomez, CF, .826
- Ryan Braun, RF, .782
- Aramis Ramirez, 3B, .768
- Khris Davis, LF, .761
- Scooter Gennett, 2B, .759
One thing that definitely hurt the Brewers down the stretch was their offense, which pretty much fell apart over the past two weeks. In their last 11 games, Milwaukee has a team batting average of .206 and a team OPS of .579, second-worst and fourth-worst in the National League. Over the last five games those numbers drop to .184 and .542, both of which are at the bottom of the league.
The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):
- Jorge Soler, 1.027 (.920)
- Anthony Rizzo, .897 (1.026)
- Chris Coghlan, .796 (1.023)
- Luis Valbuena, .785 (.891)
Even though he's been shut down for the year, I feel it necessary to mention the great turnaround this year for Starlin Castro who will finish the year with a .292 average, his best since 2011, and career-best .777 OPS. His 14 home runs tie his career high from 2012 and he had 122 more plate appearances that season. Rizzo's .281 average is also his best since 2012 and his .897 OPS is the best in his career by a very wide margin. If Javier Baez can figure things out in 2015 and if Kris Bryant performs anywhere close to as well as he has so far in the minors... the over-.750 list could be a lot of fun to watch next year, that's for sure.
Game 1: I'm very happy that Jokisch will be getting a chance to start this game. In case you're unaware of his minor-league numbers he had a good season at Triple-A Iowa, posting a 3.58 ERA and 1.175 WHIP in 26 starts there. This will be his fourth outing with the big club, having made three previous long-relief appearances in Cub losses. Nelson has not started a game since September 7 and has only pitched twice since then, giving up six hits in 1⅓ innings of work. This will be his first appearance since September 18 when he gave up three of those hits in a 13th-inning loss to the Cardinals.
Game 2: I didn't think I'd see Wada pitch as a Cub again, but partly due to the last "outing" from Edwin Jackson, Wada ends up getting one more chance. He pitched well in his one previous start against the Brewers, giving up five hits and two runs in 6⅔ innings in a 4-2 win on August 13. Peralta has had three straight starts in which he has allowed two runs or less, posting game scores above 60 in each of them.
Game 3: The season finale, and what better way to end the 2014 campaign than with a great pitching matchup. This will be Hendricks' third start against Milwaukee this year, with the Cubs winning the previous two games. His last start against them was a bit shaky as he gave up nine hits in 5⅔ innings but escaped with only two runs allowed. Fiers has been great for the Brewers this season, giving up two runs or less in eight of his nine starts for them this year and three runs in the other one.
RUSS' PREDICTION: Heck, why not. 3-0. Might as well go out with a bang.
NEXT STOP: After Sunday's game ends, it's 190 days until Opening Day when the Cubs take on the St. Louis Cardinals at home on April 6, 2015. And what a long 190 days it will be.