The Cubs have largely been cruising at the top of the NL Central for the duration of this weird, messed up season, but being the kings of a crap mountain of a division doesn’t mean you’re a great team.
They come into this weekend with a record of 26-19, good enough to basically guarantee themselves a playoff spot with 15 games left to play by virtue of being 5 games clear of the Brewers (and thus being on the outside of the top two spots of the division). But they’ve been far from juggernauts, going 5-5 in their last 10 games and only having a run differential of +16 — a far cry other NL contenders like Atlanta (26-18, +53), Los Angeles (32-13, +98) and San Diego (29-17, +70).
You could make the argument that the Cubs are much closer to the dregs of the rest of the NL, and they’d likely be hovering around .500 like everyone else had it not been for their flukey 13-3 start (they’ve gone 13-16 since then, including losing 3 straight to the Brewers to close out a 4-game set at Wrigley).
This is all to say — is anyone really scared of the Cubs?
The Brewers have had their number this year, winning 4 of the 7 games against them at Wrigley Field, and will have a chance to clinch a season series win over them this weekend, despite getting just this one home series.
Chicago’s offense hasn’t been particularily good despite leading the division from day one, either, and after the Brewers’ outburst in Detroit on Wednesday, the two teams’ batting lines suddenly look pretty similar. The Cubs have a team line of .229/.326/.408 this year with a 96 wRC+ — the Brewers are now hitting .229/.321/.398 with a 91 wRC+.
The difference has largely come down to pitching, and if the previous meetings between these two is any indication, it’ll come down to pitching again this weekend. A total of 5 of the 7 Brewers/Cubs games this year have been decided by 3 runs or less, including each of the last 3 games being decided by a single run — all of which the Brewers won.
Friday, September 11th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Jon Lester vs. Brandon Woodruff
Saturday, September 12th - 6:10 p.m. CDT
Kyle Hendricks vs. Brett Anderson
Sunday, September 13th - 1:10 p.m. CDT
Alec Mills vs. Adrian Houser
Lester got off to a good start to the 2020 season with a 1.06 ERA in his first 3 starts — then he faced the Brewers on August 16th, gave up 5 runs on 9 hits in 6 innings, and has basically been bad ever since. He did have a start against the Tigers where he allowed a run over 5 innings, but that’s the only start in his last 5 outings in which he gave up fewer than 5 runs. He’s not striking anyone out — only 29 in 40.1 innings — and he’s giving up a ton of hits. The Brewers are coming off a game in which they crushed left-handed pitching and will be hoping or more of the same.
Hendricks shut out the Brewers on Opening Night, then proceeded to give up 6 runs in his second start of the year against Cincinnati. He’s been his normal solid self since then (outside of another bad start against the Reds on August 28th, who apparently have his number) and has given up just one run in each of his last two starts. We know the story with him by this point — he’s very rarely going to allow baserunners or get himself into trouble, and he’s only allowed 6 walks in 58 innings this year.
Mills did his best Hendricks impression the last time the Brewers saw him, going toe-to-toe with Brandon Woodruff with dueling perfect games for 4 innings before the Brewers finally got to him in the 5th and ended up giving up 4 runs. He’s coming into this series with a 4.74 ERA in 8 starts after shutting out Cincinnati in 6 innings in his last start.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs