Analysis

Cubs Preview: Scuffling Cubbies Take on the Brewers

Well, the last few days have not been fun, have they? Fortunately, the pesky Pittsburgh Pirates have left town, but in their place stand the Milwaukee Brewers, a group that has consistently been a bigger thorn in the Cubs’ side than the Bucs.

Since the beginning of 2016, the Cubs hold a collective 13-9 record against the Brew Crew, which initially appears to be successful. When you compare that tiny difference to the massive disparity between the two teams’ overall records, however, you can see that the Brewers have done significantly better against the Cubs than against everyone else. Regardless of past performance, the Cubs need to forget this past weekend ASAP, and a successful series against Milwaukee can do just that.

Previewing the Cubs

Source: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images North America

Yeah, so they got swept. Whatever. By my calculations, the Cubs were swept at some point last year, so this sweep means they will win the World Series again this year. In all seriousness, though, it may be disappointing that they’re back to .500 (and annoying that the White Sox have a better record), but the reality is that nobody will remember being swept by the Pirates come August.

What is important to note is that only one of the three losses was charged to a Cubs starter. This questionable bullpen blew two late leads, and, ultimately, the series. This is immensely disappointing as, entering Friday, the pen was on fire; they didn’t surrender a single earned run to the Dodgers last week. Part of this sudden faltering is the fact that Carl Edwards hasn’t been with the team, as he was deactivated and put on the Bereavement List on Friday due to the death of a family member (we wish all the best for Edwards and his family).

It’s become apparent, however, how crucial he is to the Cubs’ pen. Brian Duensing, activated off the Disabled List as Edwards’s replacement, was perfect in an inning on Friday, but began Saturday’s self-destruction by giving up three earned runs (before Pedro Strop continued the mess). Further, despite his relatively clean inning on Saturday, Koji Uehara was at fault for Sunday’s loss. Even Justin Grimm, solid to this point in 2017, gave up a three run bomb. Unpredictability seems to be the only predictable aspect of the bullpen. I suspect Theo might make a bullpen change prior to this series against Milwaukee, but it won’t be too drastic. Be on the lookout for how this pen reacts to their struggles.

Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta looked phenomenal this series, but, unfortunately, they will be the two starters not taking the mound opposite the Brewers. Pay attention to Brett Anderson on Tuesday; he has looked phenomenal through two starts this year despite a career full of inconsistency and mediocrity. Last year’s ERA leader Kyle Hendricks will look to get back on track when he starts on Wednesday.

The offense wasn’t horrible this weekend, it just wasn’t enough. Kris Bryant FINALLY exploded, hitting two homers (including one off of the left field video board). There were plenty of hits and opportunities, the team just couldn’t capitalize. Entering Sunday’s game, the Cubs were hitting just .235 with runners in scoring position. Team hitting leaders include Jason Heyward, who is still batting .284, and Anthony Rizzo, who has raised his average to .277. Albert Almora still leads the team, but he didn’t start once against the Pirates and went 0-2 in pinch hitting opportunities.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Joe Maddon juggles his lineup against Milwaukee, as he’s gone with Heyward in center, Ben Zobrist in right, and Javier Baez at second three straight games. Is this the official go-to lineup?

Previewing the Brewers

Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

The Cubs are entering this series ice cold, but the Brewers are coming in scorching hot. They’ve won five of their last six and just took three of four from the first place Cincinnati Reds. Their pitching has been solid, but former Korean star Eric Thames might just be the key to their winning. He homered five times in their four-game set against the Reds and has raised his batting average to .368. It will be very interesting to see if the Cubs pitching can hold him in check.

Their pitching staff has also been doing nicely. In their recent 5-1 stretch, they’ve given up 17 runs, with seven of those being added from the lone loss. Two of the three starters headed to the mound this week, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson, have given up a combined three earned runs in four total starts. Nelson held the Cubs to one run in six innings just over a week ago, but the third starter this week, Tommy Milone, surrendered four earned runs in the same number of innings the same series. Watch to see if the Cubs use their experience against both pitchers to their advantage.

GAME TIMES, HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN

Monday, April 17 – 7:05 PM / CSN-C+ / AM 670 The Score

Tuesday, April 18 – 7:05 PM / WGN / AM 670 The Score

Wednesday, April 19 – 1:20 PM / WGN / AM 670 The Score

PROBABLE STARTERS

Monday

RHP John Lackey (1-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Chase Anderson (1-0, 0.67 ERA)

Tuesday

LHP Brett Anderson (1-0, 0.84 ERA) vs. RHP Jimmy Nelson (1-0, 1.38 ERA)

Wednesday

RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 5.73 ERA) vs. LHP Tommy Milone (0-0, 9.00 ERA)

SERIES PREDICTION

Chase Anderson shuts down the offense in the opener, extending the Cubs’ unpleasant skid. On Tuesday, however, behind the emerging Brett Anderson’s perfect game, they respond with the vengeance of a thousand suns and win by a score of 18-0. Hendricks shows progress on Wednesday, though minimal, and, because it’s enough to support the newfound offense’s demolition of Tommy Milone, the Cubs return to above-.500.

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