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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Phillies Series Preview

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This has to go better than the last matchup between these two clubs. Right? RIGHT?

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Last time the Cubs and Phillies met I asked Liz Roscher, listed as "Supreme Blog Lord" of SB Nation's Phillies site The Good Phight, to write a few thoughts about her team.

She went a bit overboard but all of you seemed to like that. So I asked her again for a few thoughts on the Phillies, and here they are. Yes, she went a bit overboard again. But it's awesome and worth reading every word.

I'M SORRY.

I feel like I should start with that. I had NO IDEA that Cole Hamels would no-hit the Cubs when I wrote my last preview at the end of July. I also had no idea that the Phillies would sweep the Cubs. If you'd asked me if either of those things were even remotely possible, I would have laughed in your face with great vigor. I think I made that clear in the preview where I implied that the Cubs would probably beat the Phillies so badly that MLB would take away other wins because the Phillies were so incredibly embarrassing.

The good news, though, is that series didn't slow either team's roll. The Phillies are still on their way to the worst record in baseball and the number one draft pick, and the Cubs are even closer to making the postseason. In the 40 (or 41) games since the sweep, the Phillies have gone 17-23 and the Cubs are 29-12, which includes FOUR separate winning streaks of six games, nine games, six games, and five games. And while I'm sure those three games would be nice to have, or even just one of them, know that by being no-hit the Cubs gave this lifelong Phillies fan and Cole Hamels devotee her ultimate dream. I got to see my favorite pitcher throw a no-hitter on my birthday. So thank you, and also I'm sorry again.

The hot streak the Phillies were on has long since been over, and unless there's some devil magic going on, the Cubs aren't going to reignite it. Cole Hamels and Chase Utley have been traded, and the lineup is full of players that many casual fans think are probably made up. I mean, Dalier Hinojosa isn't a real dude. He's just a high-end floor mop wearing a jersey and a hat. Floor mops or not, let's look at some of the players you'll be seeing.

The most interesting and dynamic player is definitely Odubel Herrera. The Phillies picked him up in last year's Rule 5 draft from the Rangers, and he's earned his spot on the 25-man roster with his swagger AND his continual improvement at the plate and in the field. He's cut his dreadlocks, but he's still fun to watch zip unrestrained around the bases. His batting stance is unorthodox, but his .300/.339/.441 line shows that it works for him. What I thought was beginner's luck or an extended hot streak is anything but. In a season where even the expected disappointments were disappointing, Odubel Herrera has been a reason to turn on the game. Or he would be if I already didn't watch every single one.

I could name young, vibrant, players all day (or I couldn't, since those are in short supply right now), but what I really want to do is come to your door Mormon style, ring the bell, and share with you the story of Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy has never played for the Cubs, so you don't know the exquisite pain and pleasure of having him play for your team. Six months ago, I hated him and wanted him as far away from the Phillies as possible, as if I thought his badness would somehow bring the Phillies down. Looking back, I have to ask past Liz: down from where? Because all he's done since coming to the Phillies is bring them up. He's still the same Frenchy you've heard about -- namely, he swings at literally anything that even momentarily appears to approach the strike zone -- but on a team of almost exclusively young players, he's found his place as veteran and mentor. He's always there with a goofy smile, and is the first one out of the dugout to defend his teammates, even when the instigator is Larry Bowa, the Phillies' legendary and borderline insane bench coach. I love Jeff Francoeur now, and I'm not ashamed to say it to the world.

The Cubs will see a few starters that weren't on the Phillies when they faced them last month. Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher are two of the approximately thirty-eight players the Phillies got in exchange for sending my beloved Cole Hamels to Texas, and they both made their major league debuts last month. Eickhoff had been pretty great until his last start when he vomited up 6 runs in just four innings. Alec Asher has been less good, racking up a 10.61 ERA in two starts that span just 9⅓ innings. But they're both really young, and are gaining valuable experience in this lost year for the Phillies. Who cares if they lose?! Just as long as the players learn something. It's like the Phillies are a second grade kickball team. Both Asher and Eickhoff have cuteness factor that cannot be ignored, but they don't even compare to the 80-grade handsomeness tool that Kris Bryant has to work with.

The other starters are Adam Morgan, who is in his rookie year and has been surprisingly not abysmal, and Aaron Harang, who after a strong first half has been Haranging up all his games with his Harang-ness. You'll probably be seeing the bullpen a lot, is what I'm saying. If Ken Giles comes into the game, the Phillies are most likely going to win because he's the closer, and he's damn good. Plus, he's NOT Jonathan Papelbon! Giles' ERA is 1.48 over 60 games and 60⅔ innings, he has 12 saves, 75 strikeouts to 22 walks, and he also has MY HEART. But if you see Adam Loewen, take advantage, because he's bad the same way Ken Giles is good: exceptionally.

Of course, now I need to address the elephant in the room, which has been there since I failed to address him in my last preview. Ryne Sandberg quit his job as Phillies manager back in June, and I was so delighted he was gone that I didn't even consider adding him to my July preview. After spending 74 games thinking about him and the many ways he was a bad manager, it was purely delightful to not have to think about that ever again. I know he's a treasured former Cub and a Hall of Famer, but he was a bad, bad major league manager. As I said to Al in July, you guys sure dodged a bullet there. Now Cubs fans don't have to wonder what might have been if he'd managed their team. The Phillies were the unknowing guinea pig, and the guinea pig is dead.

After last time, I'm definitely not going to make any predictions about winning or losing. (Though I'm reasonably sure that none of Eickhoff, Asher, Morgan, or Harang is going to throw a no-hitter.) But I'm very zen about it all. It truly is like the Phillies are a second-grade kickball team, and I'm one of the harried, broken parents who has to find the bright side in every single loss. At some point you just start making things up. "Gee, your uniforms sure looked great today!" "That grass was SO GREEN!" "Everyone sounded so good during the national anthem!" At least at the end of this season, the Phillies will get a new GM, a new manager, and the first draft pick. That's way better than a participation trophy.

Pitching matchups

Thursday: Jake Arrieta (18-6, 2.03 ERA, 0.921 WHIP, 2.46 FIP) vs. Adam Morgan (5-5, 4.42 ERA, 1.241 WHIP, 5.33 FIP)

Friday: Kyle Hendricks (6-6, 4.08 ERA, 1.234 WHIP, 3.51 FIP) vs. Alec Asher (0-2, 10.61 ERA, 2.036 WHIP, 5.82 FIP)

Saturday: Dan Haren (9-9, 3.73 ERA, 1.152 WHIP, 4.82 FIP) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (1-3, 4.70 ERA, 1.261 WHIP, 4.23 FIP)

Sunday: Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.59 ERA, 1.124 WHIP, 3.72 FIP) vs. Aaron Harang (5-15, 5.02 ERA, 1.406 WHIP, 4.72 FIP)

Fun fact

Jason Hammel has played for five different teams and Aaron Harang for eight. The only team they have in common is the Athletics, for whom they played 11 years apart (Harang in 2003, Hammel in 2014). They've never been teammates even though they have combined to wear 12 different uniforms.

Prediction

The Phillies clearly are looking toward the future. Two of the four starting pitchers for the Phils in this series (Eickhoff and Asher) were in the minor leagues the last time these clubs met and a third (Morgan) is also a rookie. None has had much success at the big-league level, not yet, anyway, and their other starter in this set, 37-year-old Aaron Harang, would likely have been traded at the deadline if he had been any good this year. He hasn't; his 5.02 ERA ranks 79th of 84 qualified starters in the major leagues this year.

This is where good scouting will help. The Cubs have never seen three of these guys, so I hope they have good advance scouting reports. Presuming that's the case, and as Liz noted, since these two teams last met the Cubs are 29-12 and the Phillies are 17-23 (and have lost 12 of their last 16), I don't see any reason the Cubs shouldn't win three of four here.

Up next

After a much-needed off day Monday, the Cubs head to Pittsburgh for a key four-game set with the Pirates starting Tuesday afternoon. That day, they'll play a split doubleheader, then a night game Wednesday and day game Thursday.