A Brewers-Cubs series won’t quite be the same without the folks at Wrigley raining boos on Ryan Braun before he homers and rounds the bases while yelling “LET’S (funning) GO,” but it’s still Opening Day, and it’s still a Brewers-Cubs series.
Ten of the Brewers’ 60 games will be against Chicago’s NL team this year, adding extra importance to each meeting (although maybe not as much importance as before the league announced every first and second place team would make the playoffs, along with two wildcards).
The Cubs largely stayed quiet against this past offseason, adding only spare pieces (and Brewers castoffs) like Jeremy Jeffress and Hernan Perez on minor league deals. They also added veteran Jason Kipnis to help fill a gap at second base, after they (finally) dumped Addison Russell and moved Javier Baez to shortstop permanently. Jeffress and Kipnis made the team’s Opening Day roster, while Perez is a part of their secondary roster.
Like the Brewers and Braun, the addition of the DH would seem to create a natural landing spot for Kyle Schwarber, but the big man is still a better left fielder than most give him credit for, so we’ll have to see how new manager David Ross plays that situation through the year.
Speaking of Ross, he replaces Joe Maddon as the guy calling the shots, despite no previous managerial or coaching experience. The hope seems to be that having “one of the guys” acting as manager will improve an environment that had grown a bit toxic under the aloof and self-important Maddon, leading to years of disappointment after their World Series win.
We won’t explicitly say they may be trying to repeat what the Brewers have done under Craig Counsell, but, well...
Friday, July 24th - 6:10 p.m. CDT - Fox Sports Wisconsin, ESPN
RHP Brandon Woodruff vs. RHP Kyle Hendricks
Saturday, July 25th - 12:05 p.m. CDT - FOX national broadcast
RHP Corbin Burnes vs. RHP Yu Darvish
Sunday, July 26th - 1:20 p.m. CDT - Fox Sports Wisconsin
RHP Freddy Peralta vs. RHP Tyler Chatwood
Facing lefties has been a problem for the Brewers in recent years, but David Stearns worked to try to balance the lineup a bit more in the offseason, and with Jose Quintana unavailable to start the year and Jon Lester continuing to age, Ross instead went with three righties to start the year against the Brewers.
Hendricks has seen his ERA creep up over the last 3 years despite improving his FIP over that time, but has always been excellent at Wrigley — a career 2.61 ERA at home as opposed to 3.70 on the road — and the wind could be blowing in for the opener. Hendricks has a career 3.08 ERA against the Brewers in 21 career starts.
Darvish is very good, and you probably know that already, so we don’t need to spend much time on that. He’s coming off his first full season as a Cub after undergoing Tommy John surgery after 8 starts in 2018, and while the ERA was higher than you’d expect thanks to a league-leading 33 home runs allowed with the Super Ball, he still struck out 11.5 batters per 9 innings while only walking 2.8 per 9 last year.
Chatwood is back in the rotation this year after spending much of last season in the bullpen, with only 5 of his 38 appearances being starts. He saw his strikeout rate rise in a relief role, but walks continued to be a big problem for him, as he averaged 4.3 walks per 9 innings. That’s an improvement over the 8.2 (not a typo) BB/9 he had in his much-maligned first year with the Cubs, but the truth remains you can largely wait him out and let him work himself into trouble.
In the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel had a 6.53 ERA last year that was actually better than it should have been, if you believe his FIP of 8.00. The Cubs are paying him $16 million this year and $16 million next year before a possible $1 million buyout of a $16 million buyout for the 2022 season. They also lost Pedro Strop to free agency, and outside of Jeffress, the rest of the bullpen is filled with young arms who aren’t exactly proven.