Analysis

Cubs Welcome Underachieving Giants, Prepare for NLDS Rematch

Before Game Seven in Cleveland, and before the Goat Curse died at Wrigley, the Cubs expelled some even-year dark magic from the baseball world by toppling the San Francisco Giants in the National League Divisional Series. This week, the two teams meet for the first time since the Cubs’ astonishing Game 4 comeback that terminated the Giants’ season and extended their own.

Previewing the Cubs (22-20)

April 14, 2017 – Source: Jon Durr/Getty Images North America

After falling below .500 and dropping two of three to the Cardinals just a week ago, the Cubs seem to have turned their season around and have won four of their last five.

The one recent loss came in part from an obscene amount of walks (10) given to Milwaukee, a problem which the newest Cub starter Eddie Butler began. To be fair, he was very close to the zone (at least in the first few innings) and didn’t get any help from the umpire, but allowing five free passes in three innings tends to hurt you. I still believe in Butler, and I think he’ll prove that you should to when he starts on Thursday.

That short outing paved the way for Pierce Johnson to make his MLB debut — you probably haven’t heard much about it, and that’s because it was kind of a disaster. In just one inning of work, Johnson allowed two runs on two hits and a walk. Neither run was earned because of a series of errors by Kyle Schwarber (it was in the heavy rain, not entirely his fault), but his sub-par performance nonetheless earned his demotion the next day.

Dylan Floro was called up in his place, but was expended in the last two innings of yesterday’s game in which he got rocked for five runs on seven hits. This sub-par performance resulted in his demotion to Triple-A, and Zac Rosscup has just been called up in his place.

You may remember Rosscup from his time with the Cubs in 2015, when he pitched to a 4.39 ERA in 33 appearances. He never left the North Side, but, rather, dealt with a shoulder injury last and will be making his first appearance since his surgery this week.

The other major area of uncertainty for the Cubs is their lead-off spot in the lineup. The Kyle Schwarber experiment was fun, but his .185 batting average clearly reveals that it should end. In his first time starting out of a different place in the batting order, Schwarber went 1-3 with a walk. His replacement yesterday, Ben Zobrist, homered to start the game, and is in the lead-off role again tonight.

Previewing the Giants (19-26)

Source: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America

No team in 2017 has experienced disappointment quite to the extent that the Giants have.

Entering the season with high expectations following a 2016 NLDS appearance and the flashy free agent signing of Mark Melancon, San Francisco has split their time between fourth and fifth place in their division since the year started.

And, as if spending nearly the entire month of April in the cellar of the N.L. West wasn’t bad enough, injury disaster struck them as well. Perennial all-star lefty and playoff god Madison Bumgarner went down in a dirt biking accident and quirky outfielder Hunter Pence suffered a hamstring strain that will most likely keep him out of Wrigley.

Their horrible start can predominantly be attributed to an anemic offense that currently ranks 29th in the MLB in runs scored (154), 27th in batting average (.232), 29th in OBP (.289), and 30th in OPS (.640). Buster Posey is the one outlier, slashing .362/.441/.559 with seven homers.

All that being said, San Francisco may have resolved their issues as they’ve won eight of their past eleven games.

As for pitching, the Giants have made do without Bumgarner, though they aren’t the same without their ace. Cub fans will recognize Jeff Samardzija when he takes the mound on Thursday for the Giants, as he spent seven years on the North Side before being traded to the Oakland A’s with Jason Hammel for Addison Russell and Billy McKinney (thanks Billy Beane!).

Samardzija famously expressed his discontent with the Cubs’ front office after they completed the now-legendary Jake Arrieta deal, when he stated “I don’t think this team improves by trading Scott Feldman.” Contract discussions and financial disagreements added on and ensured a messy breakup between the Cubs and “The Shark,” and traces of bad blood linger between the two sides.

Those sentiments combined with the sour taste left in the Giants’ mouths by the NLDS will make this a fun series.

How to Watch/Listen

Monday, May 22  7:05 p.m. / WGN / AM 670 The Score

Tuesday, May 23  6:05 p.m. / CSN-Chicago & ESPN / AM 670 The Score

Wednesday, May 24  7:05 p.m. / CSN-Chicago / AM 670 The Score

Thursday, May 25  1:20 p.m. / ABC 7 / AM 670 The Score

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Monday

RHP John Lackey (4-3, 4.37 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) vs. LHP Ty Blach (1-2, 4.15 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)

Tuesday

LHP Jon Lester (2-2, 3.57 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (4-3, 4.50 ERA,  1.26 WHIP)

Wednesday

RHP Kyle Hendricks (3-2, 3.35 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) vs. LHP Matt Moore (2-4, 5.37 ERA, 1.52 WHIP)

Thursday

RHP Eddie Butler (1-0, 2.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-5, 4.57 ERA, 1.13 WHIP)

PREDICTION

Blach stymies the Cubs for six innings, but San Francisco’s bullpen blows it by allowing back-to-back jacks to Anthony Rizzo and Ian Happ. Lackey embraces his role as the Cubs’ workhorse and lasts eight innings. Cubs take the opener 5-4.

Lester tosses another quality start, but Cueto uses the “NLDS Game 5 Match-up” rhetoric to fuel his desire to not let the bullpen surrender any more leads. He goes all nine innings and the Giants take the second game 2-0.

Hendricks finally throws his perfect game, Moore continues to struggle, and Bryant hits two more dingers. Cubs clinch at least a tie in the series by a score of 8-3.

This time, Butler is successful in his quest to paint the corners, and the offense gets all kinds of revenge by teeing off on The Shark. Cubs take Thursday’s game — and the series — 11-2.

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