Series Preview: Chicago Cubs (6-13) at Philadelphia Phillies (9-10)

The Cubs finally got their first series win of the year! Things are looking up….except that they just barely avoid having the worst record in the NL (mostly due to opportunity – the Padres are 6-14). It already feels like forever since the last Cubs game. The series was the Cardinals was a nice reminder that not every game will be a dreary slog to 100 losses, but good feelings have faded quickly after a lackluster day game loss, an off day, then a night game gave us plenty of time to remember that the 2012 Cubs are the 2012 Cubs.

The Phillies are coming off a ten-day west coast road trip, so they could be a little jetlagged. They split a series with the Giants, dropped two of three to the aforementioned Padres, and won a series with the DBacks. The Phillies were the popular pick again given the arms in their rotation, but this team got old in a hurry. I still ended up picking them to win the division but as each day passes I become more and more convinced that this is the Nationals' year.

Team Overviews

Team stats and NL ranks

  Cubs Philies
wOBA .278 (15th) .290 (13th)
BSR 1.7 (2nd) -0.1 (10th)
UZR -1.3 (10th) 8.4 (1st)
DRS -9 (12th) 1 (5th)
SP FIP 3.46 (6th) 3.05 (2nd)
RP FIP 4.60 (16th) 3.82 (11th)

The Cubs bullpen blows. The next worst relievers' FIP is the Astros at 4.08. I would guess that it could just be HR luck, but the Cubs pen's HR/FB% is 7.7%, and their NL-worst xFIP is 5.03 compared to the next worst (Astros again) at 4.29.

Lineups

Current wOBA / ZiPS projected wOBA

Cubs wOBA wOBA Phillies
RF David DeJesus .322 / .328 ,321 / .300 LF Juan (dying laughing)
CF Tony Campana .438 / .298 .260 / .301 3B Placido Polanco
SS Starlin Castro .360 / .336 .249 / .324 SS Jimmy Rollins
1B Bryan LaHair .482 / .351 .326 / .339 RF Hunter Pence
LF Alfonso Soriano .210 / .312 .342 / .346 CF Shane Victorino
3B Ian Stewart .227 / .308 .165 / .355 1B Not Ryan Howard
C Geovany Soto .199 / .325 .335 / .324 C Carlos Ruiz
2B Darwin Barney .332 / .297 .245 / .285 2B Not Chase Utley

Freddy Galvis has picked up most of the time at 2B with Chase Utley out, and a mashup of Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome (numbers above), and Laynce Nix have been filling in for Howard. When the regulars are in this lineup they've got some thump, but given the lineup's age that's not going to happen too often.

Injuries

Dempster is on track to return from teh DL with minimum time missed, and Wood has been throwing off a mound.

The Phillies are missing three of their big name players to injuries. Cliff Lee is out with a side muscle strain but shouldn't be shelved for very long. Utley is still out indefinitely with his chronic knee problems, and Ryan Howard has recently had a setback in his rehab from Achilles tendon surgery at the end of last year. The 5 year extension kicked in three weeks ago!

Pitching Matchups

ERA, FIP, xFIP, ZiPS FIP listed for all pitchers

Friday: Paul Maholm, LHP (8.36, 6.54, 5.41, 4.00) vs Roy Halladay, RHP (1.50, 2.63, 3.90, 2.62), 6:05 PM CT

Paul Maholm finally had a Paul Maholm-y start in his last time out against the Reds. He threw 6 innings, got twelve grounders, and kept the ball in the yard. If memory serves me correctly the conditions were very pitcher-friendly, and it sounds like the same will be true in Philly tonight. He'll need all the help he can get against his opposite number.

At least we'll get to see the Cubs offense get dominated by a good pitcher today, instead of the Bronson Arroyos of the league. Given the conditions and the lineup the National Weather Service should issue a No-Hitter Watch for the Philadelphia area.

Saturday: Randy Wells, RHP (3.60, 5.10, 6.73, 4.31) vs Joe Blanton, RHP (4.34, 3.48, 4.47, 4.01), 6:05 PM CT

Small sample sizes apply as always, but I wonder at what point I'll cut bait on believing in Randy Wells. A big part of my objection to Samardzija's move to the rotation was the possiblity that the Cubs would give up on Wells. On the one hand, he was injured last year and the Cubs rushed him back too soon, so I don't think people are giving him enough credit for his first two years in the majors. On the other hand, aside from what looked like the good kind of regression late last year he's pitched like shit, and maybe the injury has something to do with that too. He was hit hard and had trouble finding the plate in his first start, and wasn't looking so hot in his minor league starts with the I-Cubs before his callup.

Blanton is a pitcher whose skills I always misremember. I always think of him as a high-strikeout, high-walk, high-pitch count, flyball kind of pitcher, while over his career he's been much more of a walk-averse pitcher who encourages batters to put the ball in play. He's pitched decently enough this year, and was only hit particularly hard by the Giants in his third start.

Sunday: Matt Garza, RHP (3.38, 3.53, 3.35, 3.36) vs Kyle Kendrick, RHP (9.39, 5.76, 6.38, 4.51), 12:35 PM CT

Kendrick has been the Phillies break-in-case-of-emergency starter since 2007, and he's somehow made nearly 100 starts with the Phillies despite providing an average of ~0.3 WAR per season over that time. He has a career 4.13 K/9 without the particularly impressive GB% to make up for it, and is quite homer-prone.

Garza's numbers are still tracking fairly well with last year's transformation. His GB% is sitting at 43.3% after four starts, which is closer to the 46.3% from last year than his more FB-heavy numbers in Tampa.

Monday: Chris Volstad, RHP (6.14, 3.17, 3.60, 4.41) vs Vance Worley, RHP (2.16, 4.02, 2.75, 3.72), 6:05 PM CT

This would normally be Samardzija's spot in the rotation but the Cubs are going to give him more time off when they can since he has largely been in the pen over the past few years. Volstad was cruising along in his last start before running out of steam in the 6th, giving up four runs in six innings. That's all another team generally needs against the Cubs offense. His peripherals continue to look good but he continues to look hittable on the mound.

Worley picked up 21 starts for the Phils last year and had a great rookie debut, posting a 3.01 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 131 innings. He's more like the image I have of Blanton, lots of strikeouts, lots of pitches, lots of flyballs, but he hasn't been particularly homer-prone as yet. I would have guessed that he was a big fastball guy but it tops out around 90-91.

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