I considered not writing a preview for this series as every time I write something the opposite seems to happen in the series. The Cardinals did play good defense in the series at miller park. The Giants offense put up a ton of runs in the last series. But this series is the big one and I felt like I really wanted to break things down and I figured a series preview was the best way to do that. This one will contain a bit more random stuff though. First, just how important is this series to the crew? Very, very, important. With 32 games left to play BP has their chances of winning the division at one in four. If they were to get swept in the series I am calculating that their chances would go down to about 5%. Sweep the Cubs and their chances go up just over 50% depending on what the Cardinals do. That is a huge possible swing in just three days.
So the moral of the story is Nedly needs to pull out all the stops for this series and manage like it was a playoff series. 2-1 and they are in decent position. Anything worse and they are in trouble.
A lot has been written about the Cubs defense this year and how they seem to be getting lucky on balls in play. But as of right now, they are tops in the NL in DEF , plus/minus, and DALG . They are second in the NL in RZR (also at Hardball times) to go along with that. Each one of these statistics uses a different way of calculating defense and I just don't believe that this is all from luck anymore. The Cubs have a very good defense. Maybe they aren't the best in the NL but they are in the top three. The Brewers on the other hand, are probably in the bottom three. DALG suggests that the differential in defense between the two clubs is almost 100 runs so far this season. That is HUGE. If the crew expects to win this series their defense is probably going to have to play much better than they have so far this year.
Earlier in the year I commented that the Cubs were leaning on Ramirez and Lee to carry the offense. In the past few months though they have fallen back a bit but the rest of the offense has picked up the slack. DeRosa, Ward, Soriano, and Jason Kendall have all put up better than league average numbers at their positions. Fontenot and Theriot are playing basically league average and the sinkholes in the lineup have either hit the bench or sent to AAA or traded. Kendall obviously is over his head and maybe so if Ward but Fontenot and Theriot are both 27 now so this probably is real production from them. Suddenly, the Cubs are offering a balanced attack something the Brewers had as a strength a few months ago.
Meanwhile the Crew's offense has become very dependent on Fielder and Braun to carry them. Players like Hart, Hardy, and Estrada have faded leaving the heavy lifting to be done by Braun and Fielder. They are the two best offensive players in the series though and if the Crew can get a few guys on a homer or two could change the complexion of the series quickly.
Speaking of the homers Wrigley field is notorious for changing from a park were balls fly out like mad to a pitchers park in the matter of hours. The Brewers lead the world with 180 dingers but are 14 in the league with just 104. A hot day with the wind blowing out would really help the Crew. Unfortunately, all three games of the series are night games and only Tuesday looks to be hot and humid.
The other thing that could play a vital role in who wins the series is baserunning. The Brewers and the Cubs have been terrible this year at throwing out would be thieves at 16% for the Brewers and 11% for the Cubs. Johnny Estrada hasn't thrown out a runner in his last 22 opportunities. If Hart, Weeks, or Braun can get on base they could give the Brewers some cheap runs. the cubs only have two players with double digit steals and one of them is Soriano who is just coming back from a leg injury. He might not be too active on the base paths but Theriot might with 22 steals on the year.
The Cubs will the throwing Hill, Zambrano, and Lilly and the Brewers will probably go with Suppan, Sheets, and Gallardo. If Sheets can't go then either Parra or Villy will get the start with my money on Manny. Hill has already given up 24 homers on the year and if it is going to be hot Tuesday that could really help the Crew. He has a 5.40 ERA in three starts against us and we have already hit 4 dingers in just 16 2/3 innings against him. He has struck out 16 Brewers though. He features a great curveball but his fastball is low 90's with little movement so I would try to get into fastball counts, guess fastball, and swing really hard.
We all know about Zambrano so I am going to skip to Ted Lilly. Lilly is also a lefty who is having a very similar year to Rich Hill. He has given up 23 homers on the year and 3 to the Crew in three starts lasting just over 12 innings.
The opportunity is somehow still there for a Brewer team that has played just terribly recently to fall from first place. The Cubs are throwing two lefties that we have hit well this year and we hit lefties well in general. If the ball is carrying we could have a big series with the longball. Defensively, we just have to play better and hopefully we can keep them from taking too many bases against Estrada when he is behind the plate.
With Cappy in the pen we kind of have 7 relievers again so with the off day today the pen is rested. Hopefully Ned won't push the starters at all and use mostly the good relievers if the games are close. 5-6 innings and sit down should be good enough. The Cubs pen still is a bit of a weakness though they have been better of late. If the bullpens decide the series though I would be a very happy man.
I will be rooting for 2-1 but if I had to guess I would say 1-2 Cubs. The first game of the series looks to be maybe the best matchup for us pitching wise so hopefully they can win that one and get off to a good start.