Tuesday: Chase Anderson (6.11 ERA, 5.69 DRA, -0.2 WARP) v. Kyle Hendricks (3.03 ERA, 3.81 DRA, 0.6 WARP)
Chase Anderson managed to cobble together the minimum requirements for what is officially known as a “quality start” his last time out in Miami, allowing three runs over six inning in a 3-2 loss to the Marlins. Since beginning the season with a pair of scoreless starts, he’s 0-5 with an 8.88 ERA, allowing nine home runs in 24.1 innings. Hendricks is the Cubs No. 5 starter, and he might be better than every single pitcher in the Brewers organization (please save us, Jimmy Nelson). That seems unfair to me. Capitalist swine! The Cubs are the 1% #OccupyWrigley. Speaking of the 1%, many people falsely believe that the Brewers organization is owned by Mark Attanasio when it fact it is Hendricks, who owns a 1.49 ERA in seven starts against Milwaukee, that is the team’s rightful owner.
Wednesday: Jimmy Nelson (3.51 ERA, 4.32 DRA, 0.5 WARP) v. John Lackey (3.54 ERA, 3.51 DRA, 0.9 WARP)
This is literally the only possible match-up between these two teams that could result in a Milwaukee starter having a lower ERA than his counterpart from the North Side. Does this mean the Brewers have a decent shot at winning this game? You’re so stupid! John Lackey has a solid track record against the Brewers (5-1, 3.11 ERA), and the Cubs can and will stack their lineup with up to six lefties and switch hitters to take advantage of Jimmy Nelson’s ugly platoon splits: lefties hold a nearly 200 point advantage in OPS vs. Nelson. The Brewers could win this game. We could find out tomorrow that Tupac has been hiding out in Gary, Indiana and working at Target this whole time. Betelgeuse could go super nova later this year and trigger the heat death of the universe. There’s a lot of things that could happen.
Thursday: Junior Guerra (4.00 ERA, 4.18 ERA, 0.2 WARP) v. Jason Hammel (1.77 ERA, 4.17 DRA, 0.5 WARP)
Jason Hammel is a pitcher who was below-average to terrible for most of his 8 year career and then signed with the Cubs and became a superhero. He entered the 2014 season with a career 4.80 ERA and dominated over the first half of that season, racking up a 2.98 ERA before being traded with Jeff Samardjia to Oakland in the trade that brought Addison Russell to Chicago. He was terrible in Oakland, and during the following offseason he re-signed with the Cubs and became great again. Have the Cubs acquired some of the Cardinals Devil Magic? Did the Cardinals have to give some to all 30 teams as punishment for their spying, and Chicago is just cashing it in right away? Has Hammel actually been replaced by a very convincing look alike? Impossible to say, but these are all very likely and plausible scenarios.
2016: 0-2 (1 PPD)
All-Time: 144-150 (75-72 in Milwaukee)
And I stood upon the sand of the lake, and saw a beast rise up out of the lake, having five heads and nine horns, and upon his horns nine bats, and upon his heads the name of FIP.
There’s no secret about the Cubs potent offense. They’ve scored the most runs in the National League, scoring nearly six per game and lead the majors with a .365 OBP. They have done all this despite losing their top two catchers to injury, including superstar in the making Kyle Schwarber (Miguel Montero was activated this weekend), and a slow start from splashy offseason signing Jason Heyward. The Cubs lineup is terrifying from top to bottom in a way we’ve not seen in nearly two decades when the Yankees were terrorizing the AL East in the late 1990s.
But it’s not enough that the Cubs have the best offense in the league by leaps and bounds. No, they also boast a starting rotation that features three of the top five pitchers in the National League by ERA (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Hammel). Hendricks actually boasts the lowest FIP on the five starters, and Lackey leads the rotation in K:BB ratio. If you’re somehow able to knock the starter out early, a feat no team has yet accomplished, you can deal with a bullpen allowing a slash line of .198/.299/.352 against.
And they worshipped the beast, saying, “Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”
The Cubs aren’t just winning. They are dominating teams on a micro- and macro-level. They’re first in runs allowed and second in runs scored. Their run differential of +109 is nearly double that of the second place Red Sox (+59). In games decided by five or more runs, the Cubs are 15-2. They have yet to lose their tenth game, while every other team in the league has at least 13 in the loss column, and they are on pace to shatter the record for most wins in a season set by the 2001 Mariners with 116. Who can stop them? Only themselves. If the Cubs play to their ability throughout the season and during the playoffs, they will win the World Series. They are the best team in baseball, and it isn’t particularly close. The only way they can be stopped is if they play poorly – their incredible lineup is nigh immune to being shut down by a dominant starter, and they boast a starting rotation that unrivaled by anyone outside of Queens. They are deep enough to absorb an injury or two, and their farm system is still stocked with the talent to acquire just about anyone that is made available at the trade deadline. Fall to your knees and beg for mercy; or stand, and fight, and die.
This calls for wisdom. Let the one who has understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is .606.
Many folks were up in arms about Anthony Rizzo’s slow start when he entered play on April 20th with a .163 batting average, because many people are stupid and failed to notice that he was still reaching base at a .339 clip and was the victim of a preposterously low .139 BABIP. He has a .337/.451/.735 line since as the BABIP dragon has fled in terror to accost other, less formidable prey, and leads the Cubs with a .606 slugging percentage that ranks 10th in the majors. He has not gone consecutive games without a hit since the 19th of April, and he has walked more often than he has stuck out this season. There are going to be many reasons to hate this abominable demon of a team over the next decade, and Rizzo is chief among them. The Cubs are paying him $5 million this season, and he is signed for less than $10 million per year through 2021. All is lost.
Let’s talk to a Cubs fan!
I pulled off an impressive trade with the folks over at BP Wrigleyville this week, agreeing to vomit my terrible words on their good website while bringing back with me the very talented Zack Moser to give us his insight into the 2016 Cubs. Won that trade hands down, Wrigleyville got robbed. Besides BPW, you can find Zack on Twitter at @BeersNTrumpets and on the Dingers, Doubles and Drunks podcast that also stars me, famous online blogger Travis Sarandos.
Look folks, despite what Gerrit Cole says, the Cubs are the best team in the league. It’s a novel feeling for Cubs fans—this is certainly the best team of my short, 24-year lifetime, so forgive us if we’re still growing into the title. I’ve participated in my fair share of Cubs fans’ Miller Park takeovers in the past; although I live in Boston now, I grew up barely on the Cubs side of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line, and it was often easier to make the trip to West Allis than it was to trek via train or car to Lakeview. I get it, and I wish no ill will on the Brewers. Except that they lose all three games of this series, of course.
The Brewers are going to miss Pilates god Jake Arrieta and the immovable Jon Lester this series (no “ah, shit” matchup here), but the Cubs’ rotation has proven a quiet anchor for the club. Their starters’ 3.66 Deserved Run Average (DRA) ranks fourth in the majors, and they have reached the end of the fifth inning every game so far this season [Author’s note: the Brewers have failed to do this 10 times already]. The pitching staff has allowed a 26 homers, second lowest in the league and sits second in FIP and first in ERA (by a full third of a run).
And that’s all before we even get to this offense. Dexter Fowler made minced meat of the National League in April, and Kris Bryant and Rizzo always pound the ball, but lately Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell have taken the offensive lead for the Cubs. The latter is showing the league why the Cubs were so eager to trade Samardzija and Hammel to Oakland for him in 2014: Russell’s .374 OBP and .444 slugging percentage comprise an .819 OPS that’s over 100 points better than last season’s .696 mark. Part of that is a slightly better approach: he’s swinging at a few more pitches in the zone and at fewer outside the zone, resulting in a better O-Contact rate and that good on-base percentage. He’s also driving the ball to all fields, a product of a significant mechanical change he made in July of last season. All said, his overall production so far falls near PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection for Russell for this season, and he’s shown the makeup, mechanics, and approach to sustain those numbers. He’s the guy to watch this series if you’re looking for a Cub who isn’t already a superstar.
The Cubs are going to wait out starting pitchers until they miss due to exhaustion or frustration. It’s their M.O., and it’s pretty much been foolproof all season until they ran into a buzzsaw named Gerrit Cole on Sunday. Unfortunately for the Brewers, they don’t have a Cole on their staff—it’s going to be a tough for Anderson, Nelson, and Guerra to escape the middle innings unscathed [Author’s note: this is also true against literally all other teams]. If they succeed, it’s going to be because they attack the zone early, make the Cubs put the ball in play and on the ground, and keep their pitch counts low. Even that is not a hermetic lock on victory, though, as the Cubs can create runs on the basepaths and save them with their gloves, boasting Russell, Heyward, Bryant, and Javier Baez’s stellar defense at key spots.
It’s freakin’ great to be a Cubs fan right now, so forgive my joy. But, as evinced in the last series between the two clubs, it’s going to be a nightmare matchup for the Brewers’ ineffably bad rotation. Cubs in four.*
*Cubs actually in three, or something.
Can I hang out with Travis at the baseball game?
Despite the very poor judgment involved in deciding to attend a baseball game during the crunch time of finals week, I will indeed be in my usual spot in 418 on Wednesday. Come drink beer with me! Or don’t whatever bugger off.