For just the second time since the 1918 World Series (and first since July 2, 2014), the Cubs are going to play baseball in Fenway Park. This series, however, doesn’t come without its healthy share of story-lines much deeper than regular season baseball.
The connections between the Red Sox (11-10) and the Cubs (12-9) are both numerous and significant. Both are historic and storied franchises with aging stadiums to match, and both suffered through seemingly endless World Series droughts. As if that wasn’t enough parallelism, both clubs have (maybe “had” is more appropriate at this point) a scapegoat bearing much more criticism than they deserve. Neither Bill Buckner nor Steve Bartman’s actions have warranted their mistreatment, but both have been tormented from their respective fan-base for a simple error at a crucial moment.
In a more modern sense, though, look no further than the man that saved both championship-starved franchises: Theo Epstein.
After ending the Red Sox stretch in 2004, success stalled and Epstein eventually awkwardly cut ties and departed Boston in 2011 for the tanking Chicago Cubs. He eventually stole former Red Sox ace Jon Lester prior to the 2015 season and added another former Boston pitcher, albeit a journeyman, John Lackey, before 2016. He originally drafted current-Cub-hero Anthony Rizzo as a Red Sock as well.
And if that’s not enough for you, both these teams began 2017 as top teams in their respective leagues, making this series a potential World Series preview. Many, in fact, had this duel as their prediction for the 2016 Series as well, and it may have happened had the Red Sox not been swept by Cleveland in the first round.
Especially considering the rarity of this match-up, this series is more than just a series.
Previewing the Cubs
Remember when the Cubs had the most consistent rotation in the MLB? Well those days, for the moment, are gone. Jon Lester, who had been the Cubs’ best starter, got rocked on Wednesday, giving up six runs (five earned) in 5.2 innings. Kyle Hendricks performed unusually as well, but to a more positive tune. Hendricks shut out Pittsburgh across six innings on Tuesday, and, in the wake of his success, has flipped spots with Brett Anderson, meaning he will be opposing the Red Sox this weekend.
John Lackey is also going for the Cubbies this weekend against his former team. He pitched in Boston from 2010-2014, winning the 2013 World Series there. His performance this season has been, well, not so great. He’s only won a game, has pitched to a 4.88 ERA, and is coming in cold after a start in which the Reds smoked him for seven runs (five earned) in six innings. Lackey’s success last year was crucial to that of the team’s, so if he can’t turn things around Theo may have to do some reshuffling.
Jake Arrieta will be starting tonight, and had been reminiscent of his 2015 self until he gave up four earned to the Reds without walking a soul, neither of which are normal Jake stats. He’s looking to rebound this weekend and continue his great start to the year (save last weekend).
The bullpen, a unit that has been all over the place as of late, may have finally settled down. They didn’t give up a single run against the Pirates last week, which is the second series in which they’ve dominated like that. Unfortunately, this may mean we are in for a really rough weekend if the past roller coaster is any indication, but it’s possible that the bullpen may be done fooling around.
The offense is adhering to the theme of inconsistency, scoring run totals of 14, 1, and 5. The three infield leaders, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell, are all at a very solid point, hitting .277, .282, and .274 respectively. Rizzo’s power numbers are up because of a recent flaming hot stretch against Cincinnati, but Bryant and Russell are both lacking, totaling a mere four homers between them as April draws to a close.
The floor has dropped from under Albert Almora, who has gone from the Cubs’ hottest hitter to the absolute coldest. He’s now down to .270/.341/.432, which isn’t bad, but isn’t remotely close to where he began. Facing a solid Boston rotation this weekend, albeit the back end, this lineup will be put to the test. Oh, and a message to Joe Maddon – PUT JON JAY IN THE EVERYDAY STARTING LINEUP. The small-ball center fielder is hitting .375 and seeing more pitches per at bat than the entire team.
Previewing the Red Sox
While their pitching is reputable and has performed very nicely in recent days, Boston’s offense is a mess. Somehow, one of the most potent lineups in Major League Baseball has been held to game totals of 0, 4, 0, 2, 6, 1, and 0 over the past week. They’ve only won two of those games (guess which two). Their stars, the “Killer B’s,” are having exceptional seasons, with all-star Mookie Betts slashing .310/.380/.465 and rookie phenom Andrew Benintendi at .329/.400/.418.
Drew Pomeranz, who was an ace for San Diego in the first half of 2016, has been unable to replicate that success this year. His last time out, though, he went 5.1 strong with only two runs allowed.
Steven Wright similarly can’t seem to find his success from last year, when he stunned the world by become an all-star knuckle-baller, and finished the year with a 3.33 ERA. This year he’s almost tripled that ERA and hasn’t made it through the fourth inning in half of his starts. Maybe he’ll find his magic, but the Cubs offense shouldn’t have a hard time facing him.
Which means that Eduardo Rodriguez may be the Red Sox best starter going this weekend. The third-year pitcher has always been decent, but is hitting his stride this year with a 3.12 ERA through three starts. He’s made it through five in every one and hasn’t given up more than four runs in a single start. He’s not a big name but could give the Cubs fits.
Game-Times, How to Watch and Listen
Friday, April 28 6:10 p.m. / CSN-Chicago+ / AM 670 The Score
Saturday, April 29 3:05 p.m. / ABC 7 / AM 670 The Score
Sunday, April 30 7:05 p.m. / ESPN / AM 670 The Score
My Series Prediction
Arrieta returns to dominance and throws a perfect game in the opener to guide the Cubs to victory. Game two is an offensive showdown as both starters get chased from the game after three innings and three separate homers go over the Green Monster. The Cubs bullpen is able to outlast Boston’s after dominant outings from Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery, and the Cubs take the win 13-10.
Game three reverts the offense back to a dormant state as Hendricks throws a perfect game and Rodriguez goes seven scoreless. Jon Jay singles home Jason Heyward in the eighth, the Cubs win 1-0, and they get their first 2017 sweep.