The Cubs just completed a homestand against two divisional rivals who they faced in last year's postseason, in front of packed houses and (mostly) great weather at Wrigley Field.
Now they travel to south Florida to face a team with a lot of unfamiliar faces in a stadium where the roof is likely to be closed for some of this four-game series -- quite a different atmosphere.
Coming off a sweep at the hands of the Cardinals, it would be nice to get the Cubs back on track.
The Marlins have outperformed preseason expectations so far, relying on above average hitting and good work out of the bullpen. The rotation gets pretty thin pretty quickly after ace starter Jose Fernandez (9-3, 2.36, 125 strikeouts in 87⅔ innings) and surprising Adam Conley (3-4, 3.94), who is striking out nearly a batter an inning. You’ll see Wei-Yin Chen (4-2, 5.22), who hasn’t given the return he was expected to so far, and Tom Koehler (6-6, 3.92), who is walking over five batters per nine innings. Justin Nicolino (2-4, 5.17) was sent back to the minors for seasoning, and in his place will appear untested Paul Clemens (you’ll see him Friday). The Marlins .271 team batting average leads the National League. 42-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, although under the N.L.’s minimum for plate appearances, would currently be tied with league leader Daniel Murphy at .352 with about 60 more plate appearances. Starters who are hitting better than expected include center fielder Marcell Ozuna (.321), third baseman Martin Prado (.320), left fielder Christian Yelich (.316), catcher J.T. Realmuto (.303), and second baseman Derek Dietrich (.293). Giancarlo Stanton just endured the worst slump of his career, hitting .118 over 23 games from May 14 through June 15 with two home runs and 40 strikeouts in 85 at bats. Since then, he’s hitting .381 over his last five. We would like to think the worst is behind us, and the projections back us up. He carries a career OPS of .977 against the Cubs, with 10 homers, 20 RBI, and a .279 average in 28 games. Historically speaking, it doesn’t get more even -- with the Cubs and the Fish splitting their 178 games to this point, with 89 wins apiece. As the Cubs continue to run away with the N.L. Central Division, the Marlins are fighting for their lives to stay in the wild-card hunt. It’s tight. Leading the race at 37-32, Miami quickly became also-rans after consecutive losses to the Rockies and Braves put them in fourth in the race. It should shake out this way all season long, as the Mets, Cards, Dodgers and Marlins should continue to play at or near .500.
Cubs TV play-by-play man Len Kasper was the Marlins' primary TV voice from 2002-04.
Thursday: Jon Lester, LHP (9-3, 2.06 ERA, 0.993 WHIP, 2.97 FIP) vs. Wei-Yin Chen, LHP (4-2, 5.22 ERA, 1.336 WHIP, 4.74 FIP)
Friday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (5-6, 2.94 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, 3.13 FIP) vs. Tom Koehler, RHP (6-6, 3.92 ERA, 1.487 WHIP, 3.93 FIP)
Saturday: John Lackey, RHP (7-3, 2.78 ERA, 0.979 WHIP, 3.26 FIP) vs. Paul Clemens, RHP (0-0, 5.40 ERA, 2.000 WHIP, 11.92 FIP)
Sunday: Jason Hammel, RHP (7-3, 2.55 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, 3.82 FIP) vs. Jose Fernandez, RHP (9-3, 2.36 ERA, 0.992 WHIP, 2.04 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Thursday: 6:10 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Miami markets)
Friday: 6:10 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago
Saturday: 3:10 p.m. CT, WGN
Sunday: 12:10 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Miami markets)
This is a tough one. The Cubs have not played well in Marlins Park since it opened in 2012 -- just 6-7 there, and they lost two of three in 2015. Still, with favorable pitching matchups for most of this series, I'll say the Cubs right the ship and take three of four.
The Cubs head to Cincinnati for a three-game series against the Reds beginning Monday night.