Series Preview: Chicago Cubs (3-3) at Milwaukee Brewers (3-4)

The Cubs won the Arizona series but came away less two members of the rotation. They head to Milwaukee, who are coming off three straight wins against the Atlanta Braves. Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks have gotten off to hot starts but the rest of the lineup hasn’t started hitting yet.

Here’s a look at their (small sample size) team numbers and NL ranks so far

Cubs Brewers
wOBA .321(9th) .300 (10th)
SP FIP 3.86 (5h) 4.80 (12th)
RP FIP 3.58 (12th) 7.15 (16th)
DRS -8 (14th) 4 (3rd)

Team overview

Baseball Prospectus projects the Brewers to go 85-77 on the season. Oddly enough they project the Cubs to have an equally good offense (777 Runs scored).

Batters

Player ZiPS wOBA
2B Rickie Weeks .350
RF Mark Kotsay .296
LF Ryan Braun .379
1B Prince Fielder .394
3B Casey McGehee .324
CF Carlos Gomez .301
SS Yuniesky Betancourt .305
C Wil Nieves .265

The Brewers are without two regular starters. RF and unfrozen caveman Corey Hart is out with an oblique strain suffered in spring training, and there is still no timetable on his return. Starting catcher Jonathon Lucroy broke a pinky at the beginning of spring training, and began a rehab assignment yesterday.

Pitchers

Player ZiPS FIP
RHP Yovani Gallardo 3.29
RHP Shaun Marcum 3.53
LHP Randy Wolf 4.23
LHP Chris Narveson 4.47
RHP Marco Estrada 4.20
RHP John Axford 3.58
RHP Takashi Saito 3.48

Of course, Greinke would be heading up this list were it not for his pickup-basketball-related broken rib. Yesterday, he threw his first bullpen session since the injury.

Players to watch

I’m going to go with Yuni – will he commit more errors and boneheaded plays in this series as Ryan Theriot will for the Cardinals? For the Cubs, Soriano seems to be swinging the hot bat (except maybe for this Castro guy), so I’ll go with him.

Pitching Matchups

(ZiPS projected FIP in parentheses)

Friday Friday: Carlos Zambrano, RHP (3.74) vs Randy Wolf, LHP (4.23)

Z had a tough time finding the strike zone early in his first start, but settled down a bit as the game went on. He gave up a home run to Garrett Jones and didn’t get his usual ground ball distribution (9 FB, 5 GB, 3 LD). The Cubs won the game so it was good enough for Z to eat dinner that night, though it had to be at a TGI Friday’s. Looking at his career numbers while researching the Gallardo comment below, I had forgotten that he’s never posted an ERA above 4 his entire career. We need to hammer home this fact to every moran Cubs fan who loves bashing Z.

Randy Wolf was hammered for 6 runs in 4 innings in his first start in Cincy. He gave up 10 hits including 2 HRs and walked two, but was lucky that both of the homers were solo shots. He had a poor debut with the Brewers last year, mostly due to a drop in his strikeout rate, but most of the projection systems figure him to bounce back.

Saturday Saturday: Matt Garza, RHP (4.16) vs Chris Narveson, LHP (4.47)

It felt like Garza gave up somewhere between 12 and 100 groundball singles in his debut as a Cub last weekend. His game log would tell you that he also gave up 7 line drives, but he wasn’t hit particularly hard (all of them were singles). Most impressively though he struck out a career high 12 batters. Garza had a lousy spring so this kind of debut was what he needed to make sure the fans/media didn’t turn on him right away. A little wildness from Marmol and a poor decision in what was otherwise a fantastic game by Starlin Castro turned Garza’s W into a L but I’ll take it if he posts more of those performances.

I was surprised to see that Narveson started 28 games for the Brewers last year. He had a bit of bad luck with baserunners last year, given the big split between his 4.99 ERA and his 4.22 FIP. According to fangraphs he has a great curveball but his 88 mph fastball is hittable. ZiPS is not a huge fan but most of the other systems see him as a solid averageish pitcher, which is nice to have as your 5th starter.

Sunday Sunday: Casey Coleman, RHP (4.92) vs Yovani Gallardo, RHP (3.29)

Well, I got my wish that Coleman would be in the Cubs rotation but I can’t say I’m happy with the circumstances. Coleman came up and did a decent enough job in 8 starts at the end of last year. From what I remember he was one of the pitchers who had a much more confidence on the mound with Quade at the helm than Lou. What we see with Coleman is pretty much the best we’re ever going to see out of him – a 1 WAR pitcher is about his ceiling. He should post an ERA in the 4.5-4.8 range and that’s about as good as you can expect from a guy that’s 6th on your depth chart. I’m hoping that I’ll be writing Trey McNutt‘s name in here for Tuesday’s start vs Houston but I’m not holding my breath.

We’ve compared Gallardo to a young Z before but that’s not a particularly great comp. A lot of it is due to the fact that they’re both good-hitting pitchers (laughing). Z was a power sinker guy, but Gallardo doesn’t get the ground balls the way Z did. Both of them posted ERAs well under their FIPs early in their careers. I was surprised to see that Gallardo posted a 1.88 ERA in 2008, despite  a 4.09 FIP and a modest .288 BABIP. Oddly enough last year he had the best peripherals of his career, but posted an ERA 0.8 points higher. That improvment combined with the fact that he’s only 25 has led the projection systems to predict a big year out of him. He might even be the best pitcher on that staff, Greinke included.

Prediction

Brewers take two out of three. The Cubs should be steamrolled in the Sunday game but I do like their chances in both of the other two games as the lineup should crush LHP.


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