Folks, I want you to be sitting when I tell you this because it's going to come as quite the shock: The Cubs kind of suck. Hard. As a team they rank 29th in offense with an 81 wRC+. Anthony Rizzo is the only true threat in that lineup. Their bullpen ranks 23rd and isn't very threatening, though I think Hector Rodon is totally solid. The Cubs rotation has actually performed quite admirably and unlike last time we're not going to miss The Shark. We can thank stupid Busch Stadium for that. Wednesday's game in St. Louis got rained out, pushing the Cubs rotation back a day. Their devil magic has weakened, but it's clearly still in play.
Friday, May 16th - 1:20 pm CT: Kyle Lohse vs Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija hasn't been striking guys out like previous years (20.3% this year compared to around 23% the 3 previous years) but he's also lowered his walk rate and drastically limited his HR/9. This year his HR/9 is at 0.32 where the last two years it was right around 1.04. I'm not convinced that's a fluke either. His ground ball rate has increased the last several years: 2011-41%, 2012-44.6%, 2013-48.2%, 2014- 51.6%. Over that same period his FB% has gone down: 41%, 33.1%, 31.4%, 28.7%. I don't expect his HR/9 to stay quite as low as it is right now, but Samardzija is legit.
Of note for the Brewers: Kyle Lohse didn't have his best stuff in his last start. It feels like this whole last time through the rotation you could say that about every pitcher. Still, he has yet to give up more than 3 runs in a start. I don't expect that's going to change after this game.
Saturday, May 17th - 1:20 pm CT: Matt Garza vs Edwin Jackson
I lobbied really hard for the Brewers to sign Edwin Jackson and when they signed Lohse instead I was plenty peeved. Boy was I wrong! Jackson is kind of like the inverse of Lohse in that he constantly under-performs his peripherals likes it's his super power. Last year his FIP was a respectable 3.79 but his 4.98 ERA was the stuff of nightmares. It's basically the same story this year with his FIP at 3.44 and his ERA at 4.56. His 18.7 K% and 9.7 BB% are both just a little worse than league average and his .279 BAA and 1.44 both solidly below average. He's keeping the ball in the park with a 0.38 HR/9 but that's going to skyrocket at some point. Hopefully the Brewers can help him with that.
Of note for the Brewers: Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson have been near mirror images of each other this year. That's a scary thought. I do still think Garza turns it around though. Also, this is the first game Carlos Gomez will be available for after coming off his suspension. Let's hope his back is well enough to play.
Sunday, May 18th - 1:20 pm CT: Marco Estrada vs Travis Wood
I don't really know what to make of Travis Wood. He had an excellent (fluky?)season in 2013 and so far this year his peripherals are even better. His ERA is up near 5.00 though and I'm not convinced his improved strikeout rate (20.5% up from around 16-18% the previous 3 years) is for real. His fastball sits around 88-89 mph but he mixes it with a cutter around 85-86 and the occasional slider, changeup, and curveball. Maybe he has good deception? I don't know. But he's totally the kind of pitcher to give the Brewers batters a hard time.
Of note for the Brewers: I love Marco Estrada.
I kind of want to predict a rain out or two again. There is rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday though I don't know exactly when it's supposed to hit. Samardzija is tough and Wood is weird, but the Cubs offense is awful, and there's always the Cubes effect in play. The Brewers should win 2 out of 3 but I could see some shenanigans happening. Gomez is coming back on Saturday so I'll be the optimist and say they do win that 2 out of 3. They'd better with that Braves 4 set coming up next...
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs