This is not the crappy Cubs team we grew to love beating up on. It's also not the complete world beaters we're all fearing they'll eventually become. It's something in the middle with several solid to already great players.
The two "veterans" they have should be familiar to you. Starlin Castro was supposed to grow into an amazing player. Then he was supposed to have fallen apart. Now he's just a solidly above average shortstop. He has a 108 wRC+ to go along with average defense. It's not what Cubs fans were hoping for I'm sure, but it's still good. The realy superstar in the making is Anthony Rizzo. He's arguably there already. He has a 144 wRC+ to go along with 25 home runs and is among the top defenders at first base. The guy is going to hit 30+ home run for years and the Cubs locked him up for 7 years at $41 million with 2 option years. Jonathan Lucroy arguably has the best contract in baseball, but Rizzo is close.
They have two pitchers who aren't exactly veterans, but aren't new to the league either. Starter Jake Arrieta has seen a miraculous career revival in Chicago. He's putting forth a real ace-like performance this season. If he keeps this up the Cubs struck gold again. The other guy is reliever (closer) Hector Rodon. The Cubs got Rondon the same way the Brewers got Wei-Chung Wang, the Rule 5 draft. With him they've spun wool into gold yet again. He's striking out over 25% of batters faced, not walking too many, and hardly giving up any home runs. His BAA and WHIP aren't exactly great, but he's still quite good. Pedro Strop and Neil Ramirez deserve mention too. They're also solid relievers.
The Cubs have a few new guys too. Here's where we start to really see the pain the future holds. Newest call-up Javier Baez is playing second base for them. All of his value right now comes from the home run. He's striking out a ton and not making a lot of contact. When he does though, his tremendous bat speed and strength remind me of Rickie Weeks' prime. Baez is another Cubs with perennial 30+ HR potential.
Arismendy Alcantara came up mostly as a second baseman but with Baez on the team, he's been playing center field. His initial hot start has cooled somewhat and I wonder if it's due to the position chance. This is the time for he and the Cubs to suffer through such a transition though. It's the 2016-2017 clubs that have to be good, after all. He's been a good defender wherever he's played.
Their rotation features two new-ish additions in prospect call-ups Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada. I'll talk about them in the match-up section. This Cubs team isn't exactly frightening. It has been winning more recently, including a series win against the Dodgers. The Brewers face them 6 more times after this series. Hopefully their young franchise players can't put it all together before the year is over. Hopefully Kris Bryant doesn't get a September call-up. For right now though, I'm not overly concerned about this team.
Monday, August 11th 7:10 pm CT: Yovani Gallardo vs Jake Arrieta
It's not easy task to go from Clayton Kershaw directly into to Jake Arrieta. The quality of opponent hasn't changed as much as one might like to believe. I mentioned Arrieta has been putting up an ace-like season. He's striking out 26.3% of batters faced, walking only 6.8%. He has a 0.26 HR/9! Perhaps most impressive is his .216 BAA and 1.07 WHIP. PITCHf/x has him throwing a 4-seam fastball, sinker, slider, curveball, along with an occasional cutter and change-up. He's probably going to give the Brewers trouble.
Tuesday, August 12th 7:10 pm CT: Wily Peralta vs Kyle Hendricks
Kyle Hendricks is pitching in his rookie season. He's a junkball pitcher. His fastball sits around 88-89 mph. He's only thrown it 11.1% of the time. He also throws a cutter (15.6%), sinker (27.2%), change-up (28.4%), slider (8.7%), curveball (7.8%). He doesn't strike guys out, but he's been good a limiting walks/home runs and gets the ball on the ground more than half the time. He's probably a back-end of the rotation guy for his career, but with good command he can probably be a solid mid-rotation guy too. The Brewers have never faced Hendricks and I'm very interested to see how they do.
Wednesday, August 13th 7:10 pm CT: Kyle Lohse vs Tsuyoshi Wada
The Cubs signed Wada in the offseason. He pitched quite well in AAA for them before getting called up in early July. He's pitched equally well for them across 5 starts and 27 innings. He's a lefty which I always feel bodes well for the Brewers. He has a pretty traditional fastball, slider, curveball, change pitch mix. He's striking out 21.7% of all batters faced, walking 7.8% which is league average. His .238 BAA and 1.23 WHIP is better than average. Both ZIPS and Steamer expect significant negative regression for Wada the rest of the season. I think there's a good chance that starts with this game.
Thursday, August 14th 1:20 pm CT: Mike Fiers vs Edwin Jackson
Edwin Jackson is probably the Cubs only misstep in recent years. They signed him to a "veteran guy" and solid is not spectacular mid-rotation guy. The latter he has not been. He's in the middle of his second and so far worst season with the Cubs. They have him locked up through 2016. If they're ready to compete by 2016, I could actually see the Cubs just cutting their losses at some point. They don't care about the money and if he's weighing them down I bet he'll be gone. Jackson actually has the best K% (20.1%) of his career, but his 8.5% walk rate is poor. His .285 BAA is absolutely horrendous. This is a guy the Brewers should be able to crush.
I feel like the Brewers should have the better odds in each one of these games. They're a significantly better team than the Cubs. However, they've not seen the first 3 pitchers. Arrieta is really good and Hendricks is fine. Their offense is half-way legit too. I don't think this is going to be the cakewalk we were hoping it would be when we were looking ahead on the schedule back in May. Still, I think the Brewers should be capable of taking 3 out of 4.
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Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs