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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Nationals Series Preview

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The Cubs host Bryce Harper for the weekend. Oh, and the rest of his teammates too.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So far this year, the Cubs have defeated teams not expected to be good (Brewers, Reds) and teams expected to be their competition in the N.L. Central (Pirates, Cardinals). That's a 13-2 record within the division, incidentally, something that could go a long way to helping the Cubs win the division title.

This four-game weekend series against the Nationals will be a good test of just how good the 2016 Cubs are.

Patrick Reddington, head of our SB Nation Nats site Federal Baseball, sent me these notes about the Nats, who are off to nearly as good a start as the Cubs:

Considering that the Nationals ended Wednesday's game in Kansas City with two everyday players on the interstate (Michael Taylor, .184 and Danny Espinosa, .195) and two players currently between .200-.250 (Anthony Rendon, .231 and Jayson Werth, .221), it's fairly impressive that they've gotten off to such a good start, with a 19-8 record after their series win over the Royals. 

That series left the Nationals' pitchers, as a staff, with the second-lowest team ERA in the majors (2.35 -- to the Cubs' 2.32).

After play on Wednesday, the Nationals' relievers owned National League's second-lowest earned run average (2.69 -- to the Cubs' 2.66).

Nats' relievers' batting average against (.213) was the second-lowest in the National League, their 2.88 FIP was the NL's second-lowest, as was their .267 BABIP-against.

Their 8.59 K/9 were the fourth-highest in the National League and their 2.64 BB/9 also ranked fourth in the league.

Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper (who's in the midst of a mini-slump) have been the most consistent contributors on offense thus far, and Ben Revere (oblique) has been a non-factor after getting injured in the first game, so hopefully adding another contact bat to the lineup when he returns and getting improved production from the struggling bats will make things easier on the pitchers.

But considering how the offense has struggled early (currently ninth in the NL in runs scored), Nats fans have to be happy with the results thus far, and the improvements on defense have received less attention but have definitely helped make up for the lack of run support the pitching staff has received.

Fun fact

Bryce Harper has hit five home runs at Wrigley Field in 65 at-bats there. That's his most in any park outside the N.L. East. Hopefully, that number stays at five through this weekend.

Pitching matchups

Thursday: Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.52 ERA, 1.043 WHIP, 2.51 FIP) vs. Joe Ross (3-0, 0.79 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, 2.88 FIP)

Friday: John Lackey (3-1, 4.32 ERA, 1.110 WHIP, 3.31 FIP) vs. Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.55 ERA, 1.184 WHIP, 3.74 FIP)

Saturday: Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.24 ERA, 1.069 WHIP, 3.02 FIP)vs. Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 1.15 ERA, 0.989 WHIP, 2.77 FIP)

Sunday: Jake Arrieta (6-0, 0.84 ERA, 0.744 WHIP, 2.78 FIP) vs. Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.35 ERA, 1.174 WHIP, 2.88 FIP)

Times & TV channels

Thursday, 7:05 p.m. CT: CSN Chicago

Friday, 1:20 p.m. CT: CSN Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Washington markets)

Saturday, 3:05 p.m. CT: CSN Chicago, FS1

Sunday, 1:20 p.m. CT: WGN, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Washington markets)

Prediction

The Cubs have pretty much been bludgeoning their opponents into submission. With a current run differential of +93 over 26 games, it's the rough equivalent of winning every game 8-1. (That's not an exaggeration, either -- the Cubs are 13-2 in games decided by five or more runs.) But the Washington pitching staff has been nearly as stingy as the Cubs, allowing 70 runs over 27 games (the Cubs have allowed 66 over 26 games), so this series seems likely to be a low-scoring matchup. I'd love to see the Cubs win this one three games to one, but the Nats are very, very good, so I'll call for a 2-2 split and hope the Cubs prove me wrong.

Up next

The Cubs host the San Diego Padres in a three-game series at Wrigley Field beginning Monday night.