Under normal circumstances, facing a triumvirate Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon, and Jose Quintana might not appear to be the best way for the Cubs to close out the first half of play in the 2015 season. In fact, as these two teams trend in opposite directions, facing three southpaws on the North Side might be an excellent springboard.
Expected to compete for a spot in the postseason, the Sox have seriously underwhelmed in the first half and currently find themselves at the bottom of the AL Central. While many, myself included, have lamented dearth of runs at Clark and Addison, visitors to 333 W. 35th St have been forced to watch the most anemic offense in baseball.
The Sox have scored only 285 runs thus far, last in the majors. Their .243 team batting average is 24th in baseball (though still 3 points and 3 spots ahead of the Cubs), their .297 OBP is 27th, and their .359 slugging is ahead of only the New York Mess [sic]. Their .655 team OPS is similarly superior to just that single squad from Flushing.
Only the Royals (182) have taken fewer walks than the 186 issued to the White Sox, and only the Braves (54) and Phillies (56) have totaled fewer than the 60 home runs the Sox have hit. Am I at risk of belaboring this thing yet? I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the Sox are going to have some trouble scoring runs of their own.
So that’s all well and good, but they could score just 3 runs in the three-game set and still sweep a Cubs team that seems to enjoy testing the limits of their fans’ patience, not to mention blood pressure readings. Despite their opponent’s struggles, the Cubs will need to score a few runs of their own in order to win the series.
And that’s where the matchups vs. these hefty (not stature-wise, though Rodon’s got a little heft to him) lefties may weigh in the Cubs’ favor. As a team, Wrigley’s denizens have compiled a slash line of .236/.310/.375 against righties, marks that rank 28th/20th/24th, respectively. Their .685 OPS is 23rd in baseball.
Against those pitchers who do their work avec le bras gauche, however, the Cubs have been among the best in the game. Their team slash line stands at .259/.343/.391, which puts them 9th/3rd/13th in MLB in those categories, and their .734 OPS is the 5th-best in the game.
Among the standouts against lefties this season in terms of OPS (vs. left/right) have been Dexter Fowler (.815/.655), Anthony Rizzo (.964/.950), Kris Bryant (.969/.836), and…Miguel Montero (.999/.699)? The two righties performing better isn’t a shocker and Rizzo’s dominance of like-handed pitching has been well-documented over the last two seasons, but lefties were supposed to be Miggy’s Kryptonite.
A career .237/.302/.370 hitter vs. lefties, the veteran catcher has absolutely raked them this year to the tune of .304/.433/.565 and that aforementioned OPS is 155 points higher than his career best from 2009. Granted, these numbers come from only 30 plate appearances in 2015, but Montero has far exceeded expectations.
Of course, just because the Cubs have been hitting lefties doesn’t mean they will hit these lefties. Chris Sale has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the game over the last month and change and will be looking to start a new double-digit strikeout streak after his eight-gamer snapped in his last start. He’s allowed 2 or fewer earned runs in 8 of his last 10 starts, and the Sox are 6-4 in that stretch.
This will easily be the toughest matchup for the Cubs this weekend and they’ll either need to get to Sale early or just hope that the Sox offense is simply the more anemic of the two when they face him.
Carlos Rodon picked up his first win in his first start back on May 9th and was sporting a 2.92 ERA at the time. Since then, he’s gone 2-2 with 5 no decisions and that ERA has ballooned to 4.18; not terrible, but definitely trending in the wrong direction. The rookie’s had a tough time finding the zone, as evidenced by a paltry 1.77/1 K/BB ratio.
Only three times in 10 starts has Rodon walked fewer than 3 batters and he’s walked 4 or more on four occasions; he has also allowed at least 4 hits in every start this season. He has really been struggling over his last handful of starts, and the Cubs don’t look like the team to allow him to get out of the rut.
Quintana has reached 8 K’s in each of his last two starts and has not walked a man in either. In fact, he’s gone 3 straight without issuing a free pass, the only games this season in which he’s had no walks. Could a regression be in order? Given the Cubs’ patient approach, you have to think they’re able to help him return to the mean.
It’d be nice to head into the All-Star break with a sweep, but I think taking two games out of this set would still be a great way to cap what has been a very successful campaign for the Cubs. Had I told you before the season started that this team would be 9 games over .500 in early July, you’d probably have laughed at me. Or you’d just have been happy.
Depending on the outcome of the series, the Cubs will enter the break anywhere from 5 to 11 games over, either of which would have been an acceptable mark. Still, losing to the White Sox at home, particularly after that tough loss to St. Louis on Wednesday, would be a bit deflating.
So here’s to hoping the Cubs continue to rake against lefties and that they close this first half out on a high note.