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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Rays series preview

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The Cubs face Joe Maddon’s old team for the first time since Joe became Cubs manager.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Usually, I run these series previews early on the day of the first game of the series. But with the Cubs having an off day today, and the first game of the Cubs/Rays series being an afternoon game on a holiday, I thought you’d like to start talking about it now.

To get more information for you, I asked Danny Russell, manager of our SB Nation Rays site DRaysBay, to tell us a bit about his team.

The Cubs will be facing the Rays at an interesting time for them as a franchise. Instead of gutting the team and bottoming out, the Rays have been trying to rebuild while staying competitive in the A.L. East. That wasn't a successful strategy in 2015, and the bottom fell out on the Rays through injury in 2016, but this season is shaping up to be something special.

Fancying themselves contenders, the Rays have added Silver Slugger catcher Wilson Ramos and Gold Glove finalist shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to their roster, as well as Trevor Plouffe in hopes of bolstering their results vs lefties. We will have to see how that plays out against Jon Lester on Wednesday.

The Cubs will be facing our ace Chris Archer (thanks for that, by the way) on Tuesday and then lefty Blake Snell on Wednesday. Archer has expanded his slider to become two versions of itself, making him a four-pitch, strike-em-out threat. Snell, meanwhile, is in a sophomore slump and recently returned from the minors. Given the Cubs penchant to punish southpaws, my hopes aren't too high for that second game in this series.

Of note: Rays phenom Kevin Kiermaier is out with a hip injury (that he suffered, incidentally, on the other side of Chicago against the White Sox about a month ago), but his replacement in Mallex Smith (acquired from the Braves this off-season) is just as fast, and a threat on the base paths. The one-two punch of Smith and the best DH in baseball Corey Dickerson (who leads our league in hits and will likely start in left field for this outing) is a tough start to what's been a run scoring operation for the Rays, who have a positive run differential this year.

If you can survive the potent Rays offense long enough to face the bullpen in both rubber matches, you'll probably do all right, particularly with the Rays having to obey National League rules for this two-game set. Regardless, I'm looking for a series split, with the Rays kindly allowing y'all to enjoy the Fourth of July, but roaring back on the fifth.

Fun fact

The Cubs have two former Rays on their 25-man roster: Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis. There’s just one former Cub on the Rays, though, and it’s Tommy Hunter, who pitched briefly for the Cubs in late 2015 after being acquired in a deal for Junior Lake. Hunter was once traded from the Rangers to the Orioles for current Cubs reliever Koji Uehara.

Pitching matchups

Tuesday: Jon Lester, LHP (5-4, 3.69 ERA, 1.231 WHIP, 3.62 FIP) vs. Chris Archer (6-5, 3.92 ERA, 1.205 WHIP, 3.06 FIP)

Wednesday: John Lackey, RHP (5-9, 5.24 ERA, 1.349 WHIP, 5.88 FIP) vs. Blake Snell (0-5, 5.36 ERA, 1.638 WHIP, 5.28 FIP)

Times & TV channels

Tuesday: 1:20 p.m. CT, WGN

Wednesday: 1:20 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago

Prediction

Danny Russell thinks this series will be split. That does make some sense, but the Rays have not been a good road team this year. The Cubs switched their rotation so they have Lester facing Archer Tuesday, pushing Lackey back to Wednesday. The pitching matchups thus turn somewhat favorable to the Cubs, and so with some trepidation I’m going to call for the Cubs to take both these games.

Up next

After the Brewers come to town for a rainout-makeup game Thursday afternoon (Mike Montgomery vs. Zach Davies), the Cubs host the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three-game series that begins Friday afternoon.

Poll

How many games will the Cubs win against the Rays?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    2
    (112 votes)
  • 33%
    1
    (72 votes)
  • 14%
    0
    (31 votes)
215 votes total Vote Now