Analysis

Cubs Series Preview: Cubs Prepare to Battle Yankees, Welcome Old Friends

As if last weekend’s series in Boston wasn’t odd enough, the New York Yankees are visiting Wrigley this weekend for the first time in nearly three years.

Both are storied franchises, but the modern ties between these two teams can not be ignored. There’s a trio of former Cubs players suiting up in the classic pinstripes now: Starlin Castro, Aroldis Chapman, and Adam Warren. Every Cubs fan loves and remembers Castro, who, in conjunction with Anthony Rizzo, carried this team through the dark ages. Chapman you will remember from last postseason, when he was relied upon heavily and gave up the Game-7-tying homer to Rajai Davis. Warren started 2016 with the Cubs but was part of the package that was sent to New York in exchange for Chapman.

World Series rings will be presented to Chapman and Warren this weekend, but Castro won’t be left out. Reports are surfacing that he’ll receive his own honors as well, including a potential video screen tribute in between innings.

They should also, in my opinion, give him a ring as well for being an instrumental part of the rebuilding squad, but they won’t.

Regardless of the festivities, this series is sure to be an electric one, as it pits two of the youngest and most powerful teams (and potential dynasties) against each other in a classic stadium. Make sure you tune in to as much of this series as possible, as these two teams not only play each other merely once every three years, but, based on the way the Yankees are playing, this could be a World Series match-up.

Previewing the Cubs

Source: David Banks/Getty Images North America

Just when you think the Cubs have lost it after a 10-2 loss to the Phillies (in which Brett Anderson allowed seven runs and only got four outs), they turn around and win three straight. Monday was disheartening, to say the least, but they managed to turn that anguish into success, ending the week-long set with a record of 16-12 and a 1.5 game lead in the National League Central.

Among other notable story-lines besides Anderson’s return from that abysmal start is Kris Bryant, who, after being taken out early in Monday’s blowout (which also killed his ten-game hitting streak), hit in eight of his 13 total at-bats across the final three games of the series, including a 4-5 day yesterday. After starting the season 0-14, the reigning MVP has improved his slash line to .321/.417/.563 and is simply absolutely on fire right now. In a weekend in which bats will dominate, watch out for his.

But really, it’s not just Bryant; the entire offense has been performing up to the Cubs’ standard. Even the two I tagged as slacking behind in offense earlier this week, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist, are seemingly back on track. Baez went 0-5 on Thursday but was inches away (a double shy) from hitting for the cycle on Tuesday and went 3-7 in the other two games. Zobrist knocked a base hit in every game this series and extended his hitting streak to seven games.

Kyle Schwarber has taken over the undesired role as the ice cold member of the lineup, as he has just three hits since April 25 and is now hitting .189. He did become the fastest Cub to hit 20 homers in franchise history earlier in the week, so kudos to him for that, but it would seem as though it’s time for Joe Maddon to identify a new lead-off man.

John Lackey, perhaps the least likely of any Cubs starter, finally ended the horrendous streak of allowing runs in the first inning on Thursday, but before that, the Cubs had allowed first inning runs in nine of their past 11 games, of which they won four and lost five. It’s not going to be easy to reverse that trend, as the Yankees’ lineup is one of the most stacked lineups in the league.

Wade Davis has still not given up a run, but Cameron Rupp ruined Carl Edwards‘ scoreless season on Thursday with a homer, one of only four hits allowed by Edwards in thirteen innings. Nearly the entire bullpen, though, had a very solid series, giving up only two runs outside of a three-run jack off of Justin Grimm. Even Brian Duensing came up clutch this week, keeping the Phillies off the board even though he entered with runners on the corners and nobody out (even though he only got out of it with help from a screaming liner hit right at Anthony Rizzo for a double play).

Previewing the Yankees

Source: Al Bello/Getty Images North America

The Yanks, in my mind, are the scariest franchise in the MLB. They’re young, they’re powerful, they lead the competitive AL East by a half game with a record of 17-9, and they have one of the top farm systems in the game. Brian Cashman has absolutely turned this franchise around from the aging team they were a few short years ago.

When discussing the Yankees this year, or really just anything concerning baseball, the name Aaron Judge will inevitably pop up. There’s no other way to say this – Judge is an absolute monster. Not only is he 6’7″ 282 lbs., he’s slashing a ridiculous .330/.433/.818 with a major league leading 13 homers.

This guy is insane, but the entire lineup is comparably dangerous. The Yankees rank second in the MLB in runs scored (148), third in batting average (.273), second in OPS (.824) and second in homers (44). The Cubs’ starting pitching has undoubtedly been their Achilles heel, so this creates a very Yankees-favorable matchup.

Gary Sanchez is a name you might remember from last fall, when he was on such a hot streak (hitting .299 and smashing 20 homers in just under two months) that he nearly won AL Rookie of the Year honors despite playing a fraction of the season. He struggled during the first week of the 2017 season, was placed on the disabled list, but is expected to be activated this weekend.

And, finally, this preview of the Yankees offense wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention our good friend Starlin Castro. The former Cub all-star leads his team in batting average at .362.

While there really are no notable starters for the Yanks, it is important to mention the their shutdown back-end of the bullpen, domineered by former Cub (and World Series Champion) Aroldis Chapman and his set-up man Dellin Bettances. Each individual has only allowed one run in 11 innings this year. This dominance only increases the need for the Cubs to quit falling behind early, as their comeback capability is going to be significantly diminished.

GAME-TIMES, HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

Friday, May 5  1:20 p.m. / CSN-C / AM 670 The Score

Saturday, May 6  6:15 p.m. / FOX / AM 670 The Score

Sunday, May 7  7:05 p.m. / ESPN / AM 670 The Score

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Friday

RHP Kyle Hendricks (2-1, 4.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) vs. RHP Michael Pineda (3-1, 3.14 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)

Saturday

LHP Brett Anderson (2-1, 6.23 ERA, 1.85 WHIP) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (1-1, 4.15 ERA, 1.48 WHIP)

Sunday

LHP Jon Lester (1-1, 3.67 ERA, 1.49 WHIP) vs. RHP Luis Severino (2-2, 3.86 ERA, 0.95 WHIP)

My Prediction

Hendricks finds his stuff and manages to hold the Yankees to just three runs and the Cubs take game one, but Brett Anderson continues to struggle, gets taken out after four innings, and the Cubs’ offense can’t come back in game two. Lester throws a perfect game and the Cubs pick up the rubber match victory, taking the series 2-1.

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