How Cubs Stack up Against Nationals Pitching, Including Potential Lineups

There’s going to be a whole lot of discourse over the next few days regarding the matchup between the Cubs and Nationals, but I felt compelled to add to the chatter because I know you’re dying to hear my thoughts. I’m going to do my best to keep this relatively concise, though, letting the numbers speak for themselves.

The chart below shows you the Cubs’ OPS numbers against each of the Nats’ four probable starters, though you’ll notice I have not accounted for the probable playoff roster. Not that it’ll matter, since neither Rene Rivera nor Leonys Martin will be starting any of the games. Victor Caratini was left off since he has no plate appearances against any of the four pitchers in question.

Like Chris Bosio did with Brett Anderson’s mechanics, I tinkered around a little with how to display this and ended up following the KISS method: Keep It Super Sweet. I think that’s how it goes, right? The head-to-head numbers are very small in most cases with this being an inter-divisional matchup with a lot of young players on one side, so I have highlighted those that come from a sample of at least 10 plate appearances (yes, I realize that is still SSS).

Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward (who was a longtime NL East rival) are the only players with all four totals highlighted, while Kris Bryant has three and Ben Zobrist two. Take a look and we’ll meet up on the other side.

Now this certainly isn’t something we can use as the sole basis for our lineup construction exercises, but it does offer a little guidance when we’re talking about the positions likely to see the most flux. I’m speaking, of course, about second, center, and left. And I’d like to see the latter more solidified, which is something I put forth in my look at how much better Kyle Schwarber has been in the second half.

But before I get into my thoughts on how the Cubs can best match up against each individual pitcher, I wanted to share a few interesting observations:

  • As a team, the Cubs have fared better against Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg than Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.
  • Albert Almora Jr, not known for his on-base skills, has three plate appearances against Gonzalez — all walks.
  • Continuing on that general thought, Alex Avila is 1-for-1 with a HR and BB against Gonzalez while Willson Contreras is 1-for-2 with a homer.
  • Jason Heyward has absolutely hammered Scherzer and Strasburg, which is crazy given what we’ve seen from him in Chicago; maybe he can go back to that well.
  • Ben Zobrist has hit well against both Scherzer and Gonzalez, the only two Nats against whom he has more than 10 PA’s.
  • Kris Bryant has really struggled against Scherzer, going 1-for-10 with a triple, a walk, and seven strikeouts.
  • Anthony Rizzo has fared poorly against Strasburg and Gonzalez, hitting .114 (4-for-35) with 12 strikeouts and two walks; he has no extra-base hits against either.

Okay, now on to the fun stuff. Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily how I think the orders will be set up by Joe Maddon, but it’s how I would set them up if I had to stand in his shoes. The 2-7 spots were the easy part, with shortstop and right field also settling in pretty easily. You’ll see that I moved the leadoff man around a little bit and managed to find a decent amount of room for almost all of those players who see regular time.

As with the earlier chart, we’ll meet up again after you’ve had a chance to peruse my lineups.
Notably absent here is Almora, who I could see possibly getting a start against Gonzalez, who is a lefty. If that were to happen, I’d keep Jay as the leadoff hitter but play him in left and replace Zobrist in the order with Almora. And a case could definitely be made for having Jay in there at leadoff in Game 1, which should be either the Scherzer or Strasburg matchup. He’d probably be a direct swap with Ian Happ in the former and the lineup would be easily enough shuffled in the Scherzer game.

I had discussed it in the Schwarber piece I linked to earlier, but it makes sense to me (and maybe to Maddon) to put as many bottles as possible out there in hope that the Cubs can take advantage of mistakes and catch some lightning. As good as Jay has been lately, he’s not a threat to change the game with a single at-bat. Happ is a strikeout candidate, particularly in those first two games, but he’s also capable of playing longball.

What are your thoughts on these lineups and where would you change things around? Does Jay stay at the top the whole time or maybe even play less? Does Almora get a start or two? Do any of the trends from above remain true or do we see Rizzo bust out?

So many questions that we still have to wait way too long to have answered. And so much for being concise.

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