Series Preview: Chicago Cubs (18-32) at San Francisco Giants (27-24)

The Cubs start a ten game road trip with a visit to Pac Bell Park (or whatever the hell they're calling it these days). At least this series, unlike most west coast series, will only have one super late game (tonight's). Unfortunately the Cubs will miss Tim Lincecum, who seems to have transformed into a lesser pitcher. Maybe Jeff Samardzija secretly did a hair transplant with him in the offseason, Face/Off style.

Team Overviews

NL Ranks in parens

  Cubs Giants
wOBA .304 (14th) .306 (12th)
BSR 4.1 (1st) 2.1 (6th)
UZR 9.9 (5th) -7.7 (12th)
DRS 3 (5th) -12 (9th)
SP FIP 4.26 (14th) 3.66 (7th)
RP FIP 4.54 (16th) 3.07 (1st)

N.b.: the Rockies are a whopping -52 runs below average on defense this year by DRS. Yowza.

I guess I should take back what I said about this team at least having good starting pitching compared to the 2006 team. Though a lot of that damage to the Cubs standing happened during the roughly 231 HRs that were hit in the Padres series, where the wind was howling out every game.

Position Players

Melky Cabrera is having a huge year at the plate, posting a .373/.417/.550 line. He's getting just a little help from a .413 BABIP, but at least he's hitting for power beyond any grounders with eyes. Still, he's Melky Cabrera. I laughed the other day when I read an article discussing the new free agent compensation rules that suggested he might get ~$15m a year. This is a guy with only 9 career WAR over 6 seasons and change. I can't wait until the Royals offer him that contract (dying laughing). Aside from Cabrera, the other offensive leaders on the Giants include OF Gregor Blanco (5.8 wRAA), former Cub Angel Pagan (7.6 wRAA), Buster Posey (6.0 wRAA), and the injured Kung-Fu Panda (6.2 wRAA). Those guys look like a pretty good core to the offense, but remember that their team wOBA is .306. Everyone else in the lineup has been bad terrible – those five players are the only ones who have posted above average offensive production. The worst offender are middle infielders Brandon Crawford and Manny Burriss, who have posted -17.8 wRAA between them. Ryan Theriot (Ryan Theriot!) and his -6.8 wRAA is the current designated offensive black hole at 2b.

Defensively Blanco and Posey are pretty good, while Pagan, Theriot, and Cabrera have the biggest negatives. Pagan, Burriss, and Blanco all have double digit steals, while noted speedster Ryan Theriot has zero steals to one CS, and actually has a (barely) non-negative BSR number.

Injuries

The Giants are missing three key contributers. 3B Pablo Sandoval is out with a broken hand and could be back in a few weeks. 2B Freddy Sanchez had shoulder surgery in March and having trouble throwing. There's no timetable for his return, and Bochy is already suggesting the possibility he might be out all year. Brian Wilson's Beard's wearer had TJS in April and is donezo for the year.

Castillo and Soto are still out for the Cubs, and I haven't heard news on either of them lately. Castillo's injury was supposed to only put him out for a week, and he can be activated later this week. Soto is out for another 2 weeks, at least. Soriano is still having trouble with his leg but he's still playing in every game.

Pitching Matchups

ERA, FIP, xFIP, ZiPS FIP listed for each pitcher

Friday: Paul Maholm, LHP (4.62, 5.56, 4.67, 4.33) vs Madison Bumgarner, LHP (3.14, 3.67, 3.73, 3.26), 9:15 PM CT

Maholm had a tough time finding the zone in his last start against the hapless Pirates offense. It also marked the first time in over a month that he failed to get double digit grounders in a start. For the most part his problem this year has been with home runs, so pitching in the Giants spacious park should be a nice break for him.

Bumgarner had a monster year in 2011, which was his first full season. He posted a 2.67 FIP (3.10 xFIP) and struck out 191 batters. Not too shabby. His strikeout rate has regressed and then some to 6.41 K/9, but he's still doling out remarkably few free passes and has been inducing plenty of grounders. He's been knocked around a bit in his last four starts, giving up 17 runs.

Saturday: Matt Garza, RHP (4.22, 4.32, 3.70, 3.66) vs Ricky Nolasco and Felix Pie, RHP (2.79, 2.94, 3.59, 3.25), 6:15 PM CT (FOX)

Giving up five homers in his last two starts didn't do Garza's FIP any favors, and as the 13 runs didn't help his ERA either. I thought his velocity had been down the past few starts, but according to the pfx data on fangraphs it's only down maybe 1 mph from the start of the year.

Cain picked up right where he left off last year, and is striking out even more batters (and walking less) than last season. He's an extreme flyball pitcher, but he's always done a great job at suppressing HRs (playing in so many NL west park helps too).

Sunday: Travis Wood, LHP (5.94, 7.83, 4.51, 4.21) vs Barry Zito, LOL (3.41, 4.60, 5.21, 4.59), 3:05 PM CT

Zito has managed to produce meh numbers instead of terrible this year, but it looks like most of it is a factor of luck and sequencing. Zito is a very hittable fly ball pitcher and he's had luck with balls in play and out of play this season. A start in which he doesn't give up a HR is a notable start.

Speaking of home runs, Travis Wood pitches were flying out of Wrigley earlier this week. He gave up four homers to the Padres offense on a day where the wind was howling out. Hopefully we see the Travis Wood that looked pretty good in Houston instead of that version.

Monday: Jeff Samardzija, RHP (3.09, 3.00, 3.16, 4.09) vs Ryan Vogelsong, RHP (2.36, 3.75, 4.48, 4.10), 2:45 PM CT

I forgot all about Vogelsong when we were discussing how unusual Samardzija's transformation was. Vogelsong was also a high potential pitcher who sucked for years in both the minors and in the majors with the Pirates, then suddenly turned it around and had huge season (and at the age of 34, no less!). He's apparently pitched especially well from the stretch, if his 80+ LOB% post-transformation is to be believed. The biggest part of his transformation last year was a drop in his walk rate from the not so good 4+ per nine earlier in his career to the much more palatable 3 per nine. He's walking batters more in line with his career numbers this year, though.

Samardzija's transformation has been a little different, because aside from throwing strikes he's also striking out a lot more batters. He was the only Cubs starter to throw a good game against the Mighty Padres, pitching into the 8th inning before being pulled. He was efficient for most of the game, for the first 5-6 innings he was only averaging 10 pitches per inning.

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