Previewing the Chicago Cubs | The Process Report

Previewing the Chicago Cubs

These home and away two-game series just have got to stop. What a waste of a flight. Alas, today the Rays will round out their roadstand by facing the defending North American Champs on their home turf. So far the team has traded series over the first two legs going 1-2 in Pittsburgh, but making up for it by two of three in Baltimore. As someone that went to four of those six games, let me tell you that the boys are back in town. Rays baseball has been made fun again. Praise Him!

(All data over last 30 days)

The Rays maintain a slim advantage at the plate where they strike out just as often, walk a little less, and hit the ball a whole lot harder when they do put it in play. The Cubs are essentially a league average offense with an expected wRC+ of 100, while the Rays are a couple of ticks better. Over the past month the Rays have been around five runs better, which isn’t a whole lot when spread over a thousand plate appearances.

Anthony Rizzo has been carrying their offense of late, though he is getting a bit of help from the rookie Ian Happ. The latter is prone to the strikeout, but is mashing everything he can get to. Surprisingly, Kris Bryant has been more league average than good or great of late mostly due to his high level of strikeouts not leading to more in-game power. They’ve got some weak bats, too. Heyward and Almora are very good defenders, but both give a little back at the dish. Addy Russell, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist and Tommy La Stella are all capable middle infield defenders, but they, too, are showing to be a little below average of late.

Rizzo and Happ split the baby on over and under performance, but Bryant looks like his pedestrian expectations are being surpassed in reality. The bigger story is that each of those bottom three hitters should similarly have worse results than they have seen. They look better than they should, and what you would expect isn’t all that good.

Whatever edge the Rays have at the plate is given back a little bit more on the bump. I’ve got the Cubs being around 7.5 runs better over the last month, and it’s almost solely due to ball in play authority. The Rays have actually walked fewer  batters, while striking out even more once adjusting for opportunity. The problem is that they’re giving some damn hard contact. Facing stronger teams will lead to that, and it should be pointed out that the Cubs play in perhaps the weakest division in baseball where they get to feast on poor teams masquerading as Cinderellas, while the Rays get their teeth kicked in by tough teams playing in tougher parks.

It isn’t all that difficult to see why Jake Faria has had so much early success. A seven to one strikeout to walk rate is exceptional, and would rank among the greats in the game, but he’s also pairing that with better than average expectations on balls in play. He is joined by tomorrow’s starter, Blake Snell, on the better than average side while Chris Archer is just barely on the other side. Odorizzi and Cobb have been less good, but serviceable when they can get a little deeper.

On the other hand, the Cubs have seen very good results for Montgomery, and today’s starter, Jon Lester. In the second game they will take on one of the worst pitchers in the game in John Lackey who has stopped striking guys out without losing any of the walks and getting hit very hard. Their pen has a couple of very strong options in Grimm who is more of a longman, Strop, the righty killer, Wade Davis, the legit finisher, and Brian Duensing, a capable LOOGY. CJ Edwards can bring the noise, but if you leave your bat on your shoulder you might find some success.

Validating the above expectations we can see that Lester has been a bit fortunate, while Lackey takes that to another level. He has been bad and he should have been even worse. In the pen you can see that Grimm’s very fine expectations have been buoyed by a bunch of fortune, though the other relievers look (much) worse than they should. Looking at the Rays we can see that Faria is going to smooth a little bit at some point when it comes to his contact, but even when he does find equilibrium he will still be in a very fine place.

Game 1

Game 2

With the Rays facing any lefty, let alone a good one in Lester, the lineup goes into hibernation mode. To have any chance today they will need a stellar performance from one of the best pitchers in baseball, Chris Archer. I don’t like their chances, but baseball gonna baseball. The second game looks much more doable, though I can easily see a slugfest mounting on the Northside. That one is much more of a coinflip.

To have success the Rays will need to limit the damage from Bryant and Rizzo. Duh. The rest of the lineup can be gotten, but you still need to execute. On the Rays side they will need to limit any mistakes, whatsoever. No tootblans. No defensive miscues. No giving away at bats in either direction. The Cubs are a good team even if they don’t look like the historically great juggernaut from a year past. Execution in all four facets will be required if the team hopes for a split.


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