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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Athletics series preview

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Here’s a team that hasn’t been at Wrigley Field in a long time.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nine years since the Athletics played at Wrigley Field, and three years since the Cubs went to the Oakland Coliseum and swept them

So, I thought you’d like some details on the A’s, who are once again having a playoff-caliber season. Here’s Alex Hall, editor-in-chief of our SB Nation A’s site Athletics Nation:

The Oakland A’s are contending for a Wild Card for the second straight season. Entering Monday they are half a game behind, trailing the Indians and Rays for the two spots, but that’s evolved on a near-daily basis as the three teams seesaw back and forth in the standings. The Red Sox and Rangers are still lurking on the periphery, but for now it looks like a race between three clubs for two spots.

However, this 2019 roster is succeeding in different ways than last year’s version. The 2018 squad was led by a lights-out bullpen, but this summer the relievers lead the A.L. in blown saves. Meanwhile, the rotation, which was so shaky last season that they didn’t even use a starter at all in the Wild Card Game, has pumped out quality starts this year at one of the highest rates in the league.

On an individual level, last summer Blake Treinen had one of the best relief seasons ever, and Lou Trivino was a rookie sensation. But they’re both struggling this year, as is free agent newcomer Joakim Soria, while Liam Hendriks and Yusmeiro Petit have stepped up into closer and setup roles. The trade deadline addition of Jake Diekman helps, but it’s still possible to sneak up on this bullpen in the late innings.

The rotation lacks any kind of intimidating name power, but they’ve consistently gotten the job done, even after losing budding ace Frankie Montas to a PED suspension. Mike Fiers has been a machine, posting a 2.42 ERA over his last 18 starts including his May no-hitter, and he and Brett Anderson put the team in a position to win just about every time out. The A’s picked up Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark in July trades, and Bailey has been quality in three of his four appearances so far while Roark won his debut on Sunday. Chris Bassitt missed two years after Tommy John surgery but is now fully back and striking out nearly a batter per inning.

As for the lineup, the story has changed there too but it still adds up to one of the best offenses in the majors. The ever-consistent Khris Davis is finally having an off-year, as is Stephen Piscotty, and All-Star Jed Lowrie departed last winter in free agency, but different names have risen up in their places.

Shortstop Marcus Semien has blossomed on both sides of the ball and will likely get some MVP votes at year’s end, earning the leadoff spot with a Lowrie-esque bat and turning in some of the best defensive metrics in the league -- an incredible development for anyone who watched him when he was leading the world in errors in 2015. And the best numbers on the team belong to Mark Canha, who has started at least eight games at each of five positions as he fills in for anyone who gets hurt. Canha’s current assignment is CF in place of the injured Ramon Laureano, who himself was one of the hottest hitters in the sport when he went on the IL last week.

But the core of this team can be found on the infield corners. Matt Chapman is the best defender at any position in the majors and has the 2018 hardware to prove it, and he hits like a star too, despite a recent slump that has his numbers down slightly. Matt Olson is the rare first baseman who plays game-changing defense, and he’s still got a shot at hitting 40 homers despite missing the first month of the season to a broken hamate. They are the heart of the lineup and the anchors of the team’s overall plus defense -- both of them won Gold Gloves and Fielding Bibles last year, and Chapman took home literally every major defensive award that exists.

The A’s arrive in Chicago on a roll, having won six of their last seven games, including a pair against the Cardinals this past weekend (you’re welcome!). Dating back to mid-June they’re 28-12. They still haven’t proven themselves against the absolute top competition, as they’ve been trounced by the Astros and haven’t yet faced the Yankees, but they did win each of the season series against the next tier of contenders in the Twins, Indians, and Rays. Their 64-48 record is eighth-best in the majors, and their +85 run differential is sixth-best.

Put it all together and you have the classic A’s story. There aren’t a lot of superstar names, or big salaries, but there’s a quality roster from top to bottom and they just keep on winning games.

Fun fact

The last time the A’s were at Wrigley Field in 2010, their starting pitchers were Trevor Cahill (later with the Cubs), Gio Gonzalez (who started against the Cubs over the weekend for the Brewers) and Dallas Braden, whose career was ended by injuries and who is the same age as Jon Lester and Cole Hamels. The Cubs are 8-4 all-time vs. the A’s, 4-2 at Wrigley, 4-2 in Oakland.

Pitching matchups

Monday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (8-8, 3.07 ERA, 1.122 WHIP, 3.59 FIP) vs. Chris Bassitt, RHP (7-5, 3.84 ERA, 1.172 WHIP, 4.49 FIP)

Tuesday: Jon Lester, LHP (9-7, 3.86 ERA, 1.345 WHIP, 3.99 FIP) vs. Brett Anderson, LHP (9-7, 4.04 ERA, 1.268 WHIP, 4.67 FIP)

Wednesday: Jose Quintana, LHP (9-7, 4.40 ERA, 1.353 WHIP, 4.09 FIP) vs. Homer Bailey, RHP (Overall: 9-7, 5.20 ERA, 1.455 WHIP, 4.45 FIP. With A’s: four starts, 2-1, 6.97 ERA, 1.645 WHIP, 4.33 FIP)

Times & TV channels

Monday: 7:05 p.m. CT, WGN, ESPN (outside Cubs and A’s market territories)

Tuesday: 7:05 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago, MLB Network (outside Cubs and A’s market territories)

Wednesday: 1:20 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago

Prediction

Well, these are really interesting pitching matchups. The A’s hit lefthanders better than righthanders, and have a 19-8 record vs. LH starters. On the other hand, the Cubs have always hit Homer Bailey well and Kyle Hendricks is lights-out at Wrigley Field. The Cubs will take two of three.

Up next

The Cubs head to Cincinnati for a four-game series against the Reds beginning Thursday evening.

Poll

How many games will the Cubs win against the Athletics?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    3
    (79 votes)
  • 58%
    2
    (196 votes)
  • 13%
    1
    (44 votes)
  • 4%
    0
    (15 votes)
334 votes total Vote Now