Just as a quick review of the past four series against the division: In the last 13 games against the NL Central the Cubs ended up with a 6-7 record, winning their series against Milwaukee, splitting against St. Louis, and losing against Cincinnati (of course) and Pittsburgh. All in all, I feel pretty happy about that. Next year, though, that mark will need to improve some. Even a couple of games would do.
For now, however, it's time for a small break from divisional play as the Cubs finish off their interleague games for 2014 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Back on July 2 Toronto was 47-39 and had a one-game lead in the AL East; since that time they have sputtered around .500, going 26-30 and falling to 10 games back in the division thanks to the 55-32 clip posted by the Baltimore Orioles since that date. Toronto is also five games back in the Wild Card race and with four teams to leapfrog to get to the second Wild Card spot, things are looking pretty bleak for them.
This series will be the fourth ever between the Cubs and the Blue Jays. The last time the Cubs played against them was in 2008 and they won two games out of three in that series at Rogers Centre. The Cubs have a 4-5 record lifetime against the Blue Jays and are 3-3 in Toronto.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Monday: Jacob Turner (1-1, 3.14 ERA, 1.256 WHIP) vs. Marcus Stroman (9-5, 3.83 ERA, 1.221 WHIP)
Tuesday: Jake Arrieta (8-5, 2.81 ERA, 1.057 WHIP) vs. Mark Buehrle (11-9, 3.34 ERA, 1.377 WHIP)
Wednesday: Kyle Hendricks (6-1, 2.02 ERA, 1.059 WHIP) vs. Drew Hutchison (9-11, 4.47 ERA, 1.270 WHIP)
Pitching has been the weakness for the Blue Jays compared to their counterparts in the AL East. They have a team ERA of 4.10 and WHIP of 1.343, both of which rank 11th inthe American League and worst in their division. Their bullpen fares a bit worse in each category, ranking 13th inERA (4.23) and 12th in WHIP (1.375) with rookie Aaron Sanchez being the best of the bunch. In 17 appearances, he has allowed only 12 hits and four walks in just under 25 innings of work and has only allowed a run in three of those appearances.
The Blue Jays offense features four starters whose OPS is at or above .750:
- Jose Bautista, RF, .925
- Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, .906
- Adam Lind, DH, .849
- Juan Francisco, 3B, .757
Hitting, on the other hand, has been plentiful for the Blue Jays. They are fourth in the American League in average (.260) and second in OPS (.742), topping the AL East in both categories as well. The offense did suffer a setback with the loss of Melky Cabrera (.808 OPS) for the rest of the season. He fractured his right pinky finger on September 5 and will need surgery to repair it. It will be up to Anthony Gose (.617 OPS) and Kevin Pillar (.563) to try and fill the gap the rest of the way.
The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):
- Jorge Soler, 1.200 (1.200)
- Logan Watkins, .875 (.943)
- Chris Coghlan, .783 (.798)
- Luis Valbuena, .777 (1.059)
There are no changes in the over-.750 club for the Cubs in this series, the first time that the list has remained the same in quite some time. Given that the next name down the list is Welington Castillo at .684, it's likely that this quartet will be the last group to see the club this season, barring an unbelievable hot streak by someone.
Game 1: It has been a pretty impressive season for Stroman, the Blue Jays' first round draft pick from 2012. After four starts in the month of July in which he allowed a total of one run things have gotten a little more hit-and-miss with three starts in which he has allowed two runs or less and three in which he has allowed five runs or more. This will be the first time that Turner has ever faced the Blue Jays, and hopefully he will be able to build on the strong start he had in his last outing against Milwaukee.
Game 2: On the other side of the coin, this will be the 16th time that Buehrle has faced the Cubs. The last time he pitched against them was on July 19, 2012 when he was with Miami; the Cubs won that game 4-2. He pitched a gem in his last outing against Tampa Bay to offset five straight starts in which he had allowed three runs or more with game scores under 50 in each start. Arrieta's last start against the Blue Jays was on May 29, 2012, and you probably don't want to look at that box score. But as we all know, this is not the 2012 Jake Arrieta.
Game 3: Hutchison has also been streaky as of late; after two bad starts in mid-August in which he allowed a total of 13 runs, he has allowed only four over his next three starts including seven innings of one-hit ball against the Yankees on August 30. Hendricks' last start was a little iffy, allowing nine hits over 5⅔ innings but walking away with only two runs allowed. He now has nine starts in a row in which he has allowed two runs or less, eight if you choose not to include the two-inning outing against Baltimore.
RUSS' PREDICTION: Back to default mode. 1-2. Because, after all, it's default mode.
NEXT STOP: The Cubs will get their last chance at redemption this season against the Pittsburgh Pirates after the sweep from last weekend.