Series Preview: Chicago Cubs (13-21) at Washington Nationals (19-15)

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The Nats have had a bit of a streaky season so far. They've swept the Mets, White Sox, and Tigers and have been swept by the Braves and Cardinals. They're currently riding a four game winning streak. Inconsistent offense has plagued the team this year (sounds familiar). I'm wishing I was back home this weekend, as just about everyone I know seems to be going to a game in this series.

Team Overviews

2013 NL Ranks listed after each stat.

  Cubs Nats
wRC+ 90 (12th) 83 (13th)
BSR 0.5 (6th) -1.9 (12th)
UZR -5.7 (9th) 1.3 (7th)
DRS -9 (12th) 6 (7th)
SP FIP- 92 (4th) 97 (5th)
RP FIP- 111 (14th) 91 (5th)

The Nationals offense my be scuffling, but one player you can't blame is Bryce Harper. He's hit 10 HRs already, and has a .424 wOBA. That's not enough to make up for the rest of the team though – the next best hitting regular is SS Ian Desmond at .323. First baseman Adam LaRoche has been ice cold, posting a .196/.291/.314 line with a .270 wOBA. It's a far cry from his .271/.343/.510/.361 from last year. 

Checking up on Cubs position players, Anthony Rizzo leads the team with a .387 wOBA. I guess we're not going to hear any more rumbles about sending him down. Whatever they fixed in his swing must have worked (laughing). Overall the numbers are far better than I expected. Schierholtz, Valbuena, DeJesus, and Castillo have wOBAs of .376, .375, .363, and .331 respectively. That's five regulars who have all performed better than the *second best* hitter on the Nats. I'm not sure if that makes me feel better about this offense or even more frustrated at the lack of translation into run scoring.

Injury News

Jayson Werth has a bum hamstring that has caused him to miss a few games over the past week or two. He's expected to return on Saturday.

Kyuji Fujikawa is slated to return to the Cubs for this series (Dolis was already optioned to make room). He had an uneventful rehab, and is expected to set-up for Transformed Kevin Gregg. Scott Feldman left his last start with a stiff finger, but I don't think it's expected to affect him on Sunday. Matt Garza had his second rehab start on Monday with the I-Cubs. He went 3.1 innings and gave up one run, walking none with 3 K's. He apparently looked pretty sharp. He'll have two more rehab starts, then the Cubs will have to figure out who to demote. My money's probably on Villanueva at this point. Brett Jackson just came off a minor league DL stint for turf toe.

The Nats are lucky that Steve Clevenger is on the 60-day DL. Clevenger, you may recall, sparked a brawl in last year's Cubs-Nats series because the Nats players were swinging on 3-0 pitches while up 5 runs. This inspired an epic, profanity-filled rant from AndCounting on the WTF podcast

Headlines, stuff to watch for

Bruce Miles had a good piece in the Daily Herald today discussing the Cubs woes with RISP. Always nice to see someone with his reach bringing up the relative meaninglessness of the 'clutch' phenomena, as well as alluding to BABIP. 

The troughs aren't going anywhere. It's something that's fun to make fun of, but I don't really give a shit about the troughs. Improve the player facilities, add the revenue generators, keep the building from falling down. Those should be the priorities.

Let's be honest, we're tuning into this series for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the Cubs are just an excuse. Harper has hit like gangbusters this season, and Strasburg has been 'merely' good with a ~9.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. Should be fun

Probable pitchers

I list 2013 ERA, FIP-, xFIP, and ZiPS projection for each pitcher.

Friday: Jeff Samardzija, RHP (3.09, 78, 2.99, 3.37) vs Ross Detwiler, LHP (2.50, 97, 4.21, 3.95), 6:05 PM CT

To me Detweiler's kind of the reverse of Bronson Arroyo, in the sense that I keep thinking he's a RHP. Ground balls are his game – he throws his 92 mph sinker most of the time. He's also got a pretty good curveball that he often uses as his out pitch. He hasn't been blown out in any start this year, but he's pitched out of trouble in a few games. 

Shark is 1-4, clearly he doesn't have TWTW. Though I think he and Villanueva are likely to cut someone if the bullpen keeps blowing their leads (laughing). He went six innings in his last start, allowing two runs with three walks and five strikeouts. He's seemed to be throwing a lot more pitches per inning the last few starts, and he's walked three or more batters in his last three starts. Maybe the extra off-day will help him get back in his groove.

Saturday: Edwin Jackson, RHP (6.39, 80, 3.53, 3.55) vs Stephen Strasburg, RHP (3.45, 92, 3.51, 2.66), 3:05 PM CT (FOX)

Jackson's peripherals all look great, he's just been hit hard this year. He has a LD% of 22.2, and the extra grounders he's been inducing seem to be finding more holes (.353 BABIP). There's plenty of reasons to think he'll turn it around. That said, I don't think his stuff has looked as crisp as usual this year, and all of his pitches are down 1-2 mph. I guess we have to take a Wait and See Approach.

Strasburg has been getting his strikeouts (though not quite at the same rate as last year), but he's been hit hard in a few starts. The Reds hung six runs on him in his second start of the season, and the Pirates got four runs off him in his last start. The most important numbers for Strasburg this year are his innings pitched per start. Pretty much the only complaint you could make with his starts is that they were often too short. He's pitched seven innings three times already this season, and it could be that he's laying off the strikeouts a bit to work deeper into games. 

Sunday: Scott Feldman, RHP (2.70, 116, 4.19, 3.93) vs Gio Gonzalez, LHP (4.97, 107, 3.65, 3.30), 12:35 PM CT

Feldman has been the anti-Edwin Jackson so far, posting gaudy baseball card numbers while having meh peripherals. It's certainly helped him that he stopped throwing the ball into the stands on throws to first base, like in his first few starts. His last two starts were great – he threw a complete game against the Padres, striking out a career best 12, then shutout the Rangers offense into the 8th inning on two hits before having to leave with "finger stiffness". He probably could have gone the distance there too. The Superfriends have to be happy to see this, and there's no way Feldman is still a Cub in mid-August. Unless there's a Cubbie Occurence and he blows his elbow out a week before the trade deadline or something *knocks on wood*.

Gonzalez had a monster year last year, posting a 2.89 ERA and 2.82 FIP leading to serious Cy Young consideration (I think he came in second). However this season his HR rate regressed (and then some), as well as his walk rate. Gonzalez has always been a pitcher to walk a lot of batters, and he's walking 4.74 per 9 this year. He's been blown up by the Braves offense (twice) and the Mets, and hasn't had a start where he's walked less than two batters. Gonzalez is mostly a FB-Sinker-Curveball guy, and his curveball is really good. 

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About berselius

How appropriate. You fight like a cow.

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