EDITOR'S NOTE: Please welcome Eric Clamage to the BCB writing staff; he'll be doing the On The Horizon series previews this year. Russ La Croix, who previously wrote this feature, will be continuing his other series: Heroes & Goats and Cub Tracks.
The Cubs' first road games of this young season begin with a three-game series against the Rockies before they return to Wrigley on Monday. Last year the Cubs went 5-2 against Colorado with three games going into extra innings. Chicago looks to hit the ground running as they begin their first away games in the Mile High City, after the Rockies swept the Brewers. With any first-series jitters out of the way, hopefully the players can take on Joe Maddon’s cool, calm, and collected personality against the Rockies.
What to know about the Rockies:
Coming off a third straight season with at least 88 losses (last year was 66-96), once again the Rockies seem to be dependent upon their two stars: Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. If both players stay healthy, they could have a go within their division. That said, those two players have averaged just 106 and 110 games, respectively, over the past four seasons.
The Rockies have a new general manager, Jeff Bridich, who has been with the organization since 2006 as senior director of player development. He is the youngest GM in the league at 37. The Rockies had a quiet offseason, thus the Cubs should expect their offense to be their major strength this season. If everyone stays healthy their middle of the lineup is as good as anyone in the league with Gonzalez, Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau, and Nolan Arenado. This was evident in their first game of the year when the offense put up 10 runs against the Brewers.
As for their pitching staff -- well, that's another story entirely. Kyle Kendrick is their ace this year, and "ace" isn't really what you think of when you think of Kendrick. He was previously with the Phillies, recording an ERA of 4.61 with a record of 10-13 in 2014. Even if the Cubs’ offense proves to be as weak as it was during the first series of the season, there could be hope in the ninth inning. Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins had a terrible spring, recording a 12.79 ERA with just four strikeouts in seven appearances.
Probable Pitching Matchup (2014 stats):
Game One: Travis Wood (8-13, 1.53 WHIP, 5.13 ERA) vs. Tyler Matzek (6-11,1.39 WHIP, 4.05 ERA)
Game Two: Jason Hammel (2-6, 1.29 WHIP, 4.26 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (10-13, 1.36 WHIP, 4.61 ERA)
Game Three: Kyle Hendricks (7-2, 1.08 WHIP, 2.46 ERA) vs. Jordan Lyles (7-4, 1.37 WHIP, 4.33 ERA)
If the Cubs are to have any chance to contend this season they should be able to win series against teams like this. The toughest game could be against Kendrick who pitched seven scoreless innings against the Brewers on Opening Day. If Wood can pitch like he did last year against the Rockies (six innings, three runs) the Cubs should have a good shot at winning game one. Let’s hope that being in the altitude of Denver will get Cubs bats going so they can spoil the Rockies' home-opening series.
Jon Lester, round two, at home against the Cincinnati Reds.