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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Braves Series Preview

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What will happen when the best team in baseball plays the worst team in baseball?

A familiar sight this year for the Braves -- a visit from pitching coach Roger McDowell
A familiar sight this year for the Braves -- a visit from pitching coach Roger McDowell
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs enter this series with the best record in baseball and the Braves the worst; the two teams are separated by 24½ games -- with only a bit more than a third of the 2016 season in the books.

I asked Kris Willis, manager of our SB Nation Braves site Talking Chop, to tell us a bit more about his team since the two clubs last met at the end of April.

Not much has really changed for the Atlanta Braves since their last series with the Cubs other than the firing of Fredi Gonzalez. The on-field product has been up and down all season. They snapped a six-game losing streak on Wednesday with a 4-2 win over the San Diego Padres and are just 17-42 on the season. It has been challenging to search for bright spots in what was essentially a lost season before it ever began. 

One thing that has been a bit surprising is how much the Braves have struggled at home. Atlanta is just 6-23 so far this season at Turner Field and has scored just 87 runs while hitting .222 as a team. Scoring runs has been a challenge overall but the Braves for whatever reason have had a much tougher time of it in their home ballpark. 

Over the last several weeks, the team has started to flip some of the veteran players on the roster. Jhoulys Chacin was dealt to the Angels, Jason Grilli to the Toronto Blue Jays and Kelly Johnson was sent to the New York Mets earlier this week. That trend is likely to continue with several prospects advancing through the minor leagues and likely to arrive in the majors later this summer. 

The outlook for the Braves though hasn't changed much. They are poised to add more talent to an already stocked farm system in Thursday's draft. While the teardown of the major league roster has been a painful process, there does appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel due to the rich farm system.

Fun fact

On July 7, 2015, the Braves were 42-42 and four games out of first place in the N.L. East. Since then they have gone 42-95. By comparison, the Cubs are 92-45 since that date.

Pitching matchups

Friday: Jason Hammel (7-1, 2.14 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, 3.41 FIP) vs. Bud Norris (1-7, 5.28 ERA, 1.609 WHIP, 5.08 FIP)

Saturday: Jake Arrieta (9-1, 1.80 ERA, 0.963 WHIP, 2.48 FIP) vs. Matt Wisler (2-6, 3.98 ERA, 1.120 WHIP, 4.23 FIP)

Sunday: Jon Lester (7-3, 2.06 ERA, 0.966 WHIP, 2.98 FIP) vs. TBD

Times & TV channels

Friday: 6:35 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago

Saturday: 3:10 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Atlanta markets)

Sunday: 12:35 p.m. CT, WGN

Prediction

Here's where I end my string of not predicting sweeps. The Braves are likely headed for an historically bad season. The Cubs appear, similarly, on the way to their best season in decades, if not a century or more. Though the Braves did win one of two in the rain-shortened series at Wrigley Field in April, they are a much worse team at home (6-23) than on the road (11-19). The Cubs have scored 130 more runs than the Braves and allowed 116 fewer. The Cubs have favorable pitching matchups for all three games (yes, I know the Braves don't even have a listed starter for Sunday yet, but Jon Lester is certainly better than pretty much anyone they could throw out there -- "TBD" probably stands for "To Be Destroyed"). All signs point toward a sweep, so that's what I'm calling for. The Cubs will sweep this series.

Up next

The Cubs head to Washington for a three-game series with the Nationals beginning Monday night.