After two sweeps, one of which was against the Cardinals, the Cubs are in a relatively good position in the NL Central. They started the homestand off pretty poorly, getting swept by the Brewers when they had an opportunity to further solidify their lead. Fortunately, the Cubs won the next six games to maintain their lead in the division.
Now they head to sunny Florida, where Joe Maddon was able to get the Rays to their first postseason and World Series appearance. He enjoyed much success in an organization that had traditionally been one everybody beat up on.
The Cubs were able to sweep the Cardinals behind some great offense and a fantastic bullpen performance. First, I’ll discuss the offense, which has been something of an enigma this year. They were able to score 16 runs in the three games off of 29 hits and 14 walks. What’s more, they struck out 28 times. Yes, that’s more hits than strikeouts in that series. To put that number in context, the Cubs have only collected six more hits (1,296) than strikeouts (1,290) on a the season.
The bullpen was lights-out, allowing no runs on eight hits and four walks, striking out 11 in nine innings of work. Their effectiveness was highlighted in the first game of the series, when John Lackey got ejected in the top of the 5th because he was displeased with a missed strike call by Jordan Baker that indirectly resulted in the Cardinals scoring the tying run.
The Rays have been neither good nor bad and they currently sit at 73-77, which is five games out of the AL wild card. Their offense has been putrid lately, though, and their wRC+ is a meager 76. Their lackluster .669 OPS is 26th in the league this month and the offense has scored a total of 14 runs in the last games. Six of those tallies came in one game.
Even with the outlier, a 2.33 runs per game average is not great. Leading the offensive charge this month are none other than Adeiny Hechavarria, Kevin Kiermaier, and Jesus Sucre, with 0.7, 0.6, and 0.2 fWAR, respectively. Because of all of this, it would surprise me if the Rays score four or more in either of the games against the Cubs.
The Rays’ pitching has been pretty good this month so far, with a 3.73 FIP that ranks sixth in the majors and is only 0.15 lower than the pitching staff’s ERA (3.88). That basically means the defense and pitching are both performing the way they should. Leading the way is Alex Cobb, a pitcher the Cubs won’t have to face.
Blake Snell, scheduled to start on Wednesday, is second on the team in pitching fWAR for the month. His 3.73 FIP and 4.02 ERA are both better than his season’s marks. The other starter, Chris Archer, has not fared well this month. His 7.16 FIP and 10.64 ERA are among the team’s lowest marks. He has only had three starts this month, so he might just not be pitching well. Let’s hope he continues his poor play against the Cubs.
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Tuesday, September 19 at 6:10 on CSN
- Wednesday, September 20 at 6:10 on WGN
What to Watch For
- Look for Mike Montgomery to bounce back from his poor start against the Brewers. In that start on September 9, he lasted only two innings, facing 13 batters and allowing two hits, four runs, and four walks while striking out only two.
- Watch for Kyle Schwarber to get some more time in the lineup. His .940 OPS for this month ranks third on the team among hitters who have had more than twenty plate appearances. He trails only Albert Almora (1.129) and Rene Rivera (1.031).
- Speaking of Albert Almora, you should expect to see him get more playing time also. He has done really well this month and has earned starts against righties. The lack of walks is somewhat concerning, because he won’t get on base often if his soft contact rate starts increasing.