Series Preview: New York Mets (22-24) @ Chicago Cubs (20-25)

Berselius refused to show up for work so that left the rest of us scrambling around to find a replacement. We couldn't find any qualified applicants though we thank you for your interest, so I'm going to go ahead and do his job for him. He has been punished and will not be having dinner anytime soon.

Despite playing tougher teams over the last 3 weeks, the Cubs played to the same winning percentage as they did vs much weaker teams early in the season. We've come to realize that this is not the roller coaster ride to .500, but it is in fact the roller coaster ride to .444. The Cubs return home to finish out the month of May with 3 against the Mets, Pirates and Astros (finale of the Astros series is June 1st). If the Cubs are going to crawl their way back to .500, it has to start with this homestand. After that, the real part of the schedule begins.

The average game the Cubs play in June is vs a .533 opponent. No matter how good you are, you can't expect to put up a great record when you play opponents that tough. If the Cubs can find a way to dominate these next few series at home and head on the road at .500, there is a slim chance they could finish the month of June at .500. That would be quite an accomplishment all things considered, but what else does this team have to look forward to?

Team Overview

Team stats with respective league rankings

  Mets Cubs
wRC+ 97 (5) 97 (4)
UBR 3.2 (4) -7.7 (16)
UZR -4.3 (10) -9.1 (13)
DRS -22 (13) -33 (16)
SP FIP 4.72 (16) 4.12 (11)
RP FIP 3.67 (9) 3.82 (11)

Berselius uses wOBA, but when comparing two teams I much prefer wRC+ since it's park-adjusted. The wOBA for the Mets is about .315 if I recall and .326 for the Cubs, but when you adjust for home ballpark, the two offenses are identical. I also included UBR, which is Fangraphs new baserunning statistic, Ultimate Base Running. I plan to compare UBR to Baseball Prospectus' EqBRR (Equivalent Baserunning Runs) in the near future. I know one major difference is that EqBRR includes stolen bases and caught stealing while those two are included in wOBA on fangraphs. To get an idea how the Cubs are doing in EqBRR, I wrote about that on Unobstructed Views this past week.

The Mets have actually performed better than I was expecting. They have a couple guys in their offense who are on fire right now, but they also have a few black holes.

Mets Batters

Jose Reyes .364 .353
Daniel Murphy .306 .326
David Wright .345 .367
Carlos Beltran .393 .361
Jason Bay .297 .352
Ike Davis .396 .354
Josh Thole .233 .311
Jason Pridie .330 .303
Willie Harris .283 .310
Angel Pagan .250 .324

I used the lineups from ESPN and added the two players with the most plate appearances after those 8. Ronny Paulino and Josh Thole have been splitting time behind home plate this season. Fernando Martinez played the last three, two of them at DH. I'm sure the Mets are wishing they'd never signed Jason Bay about right now. Kinda like the Cubs are wishing they'd never signed Alfonso Soriano. Jose Reyes is healthy again this year and producing as he had typically done. He's a free agent after the season so look for the Mets to trade him around the deadline. I expect they'll trade Carlos Beltran as well.

Mets Pitchers

Jonathon Niese 4.39 4.15 3.84 3.83
Dillon Gee 3.44 3.98 4.5 4.29
R.A. Dickey 4.71 4.63 4.25 3.93
Francisco Rodriguez 0.76 2.44 3.31 2.88
Taylor Buchholz 1.99 4.01 3.13 3.51

Niese, Gee and Dickey are the three starters the Cubs will face this week. Rodriguez is a very good closer and Buckholz has fared quite well for them this season.

Pitching Matchups

ERA, FIP, xFIP, and ZiPS projected FIP in parantheses for the Cubs pitchers (Mets pitcher stats are above).

Tuesday: Jon Niese, LHP vs Ryan Dempster, RHP (6.91, 4.83, 3.38, 3.75), 7:05 PM CT, WGN

I look at what Niese has done in his career and I'm not really sure how ZiPS can project a 3.83 FIP out of him. It's not like he's gotten off to a great start. His walk rate is the same as his career rate, but his strikeout rate is down almost one per inning. He's been better in May than he was in April. The Cubs hit lefties well so I expect Niese to have a difficult time tonight.

After a ridiculously bad start, in large part due to some bad luck, Dempster put together three really good starts, but his last start wasn't so good. Aside from an ugly 20.4% home run per fly ball rate, Dempster's numbers are very similar to what he's done over the last few years in the rotation. Actually, his xFIP is less than it's been since his return to the rotation. I'm still convinced nothing is wrong with Dempster.

Wednesday: Dillon Gee, RHP vs Casey Coleman, RHP (6.03, 5.41, 4.54, 4.74), 7:05 PM CT, CSN

Gee's ERA looks nice, but his FIP is a bit below average. His xFIP is even worse as he's only given up 7.5% HR/FB rate. His BABIP is also just a bit higher than .240. He doesn't strike many out and walks more than the average pitcher, which obviously isn't a good formula for success. He's coming off the best start of his career. Last time out, against the Nationals, Gee pitched 7.2 innings and allowed only 2 base hits. He walked 3 and struckout 3.

All that needs to be said about Coleman is that his K rate is 6.55 per 9 and his BB rate is 6.55 per 9. That's not going to work at the big league level.

Thursday: RA Dickey, RHP vs Carlos Zambrano, RHP (4.88, 3.83, 4.33, 3.57), 1:20 PM CT, WGN

This matchup features two pitchers who made their Major League debut in 2001. The difference between the two is that RA Dickey will be 37 years old later this year while Carlos Zambrano turns 30 a week from tomorrow. Dickey's best season was last year when he posted a 3.65 FIP and 3.75 xFIP. His ERA was under 3, but that was because he stranded nearly 78% of the runners on base and batters only had a .276 BABIP against him. He struckout 5.37 per 9 last year and so far this year he's struckout 5.34 per 9. His BB rate was just 2.17 last year, which is a walk under his career average. This year it's back to his career average. Batters hit a lot of balls on the ground vs Dickey.

Dickey is another knuckleballer and perhaps the Cubs seeing Tim Wakefield this past Sunday will help them out on Thursday. I wonder how often these days a team faces a knuckleballer twice in a week. It can't happen that often.

Z's walk rate is down 1.6 per 9 from last year and a full walk per 9 less than his career average. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate has decreased much more than that. He had struckout 8.1 per 9 the last two seasons and this season it's only 5.89. Berselius has commented several times on the lack of strikeouts from Zambrano. He still hasn't allowed that many home runs (6% HR/FB rate) and he's been a bit unlucky when it comes to stranding runners. The bad news with the HR/FB rate is that this is the first year in his career he's allowed more fly balls than ground balls. More fly balls means more home runs of course. His 4.33 xFIP is pretty much right where it's been since 2006. Z's fastball is also under 90 mph these days. Since 2008 Z had been a bit under the league average in swinging strikes, but this year he's well under the league average. He's just not missing nearly as many bats this year as he has in the past. He's also getting many fewer swings at pitches out of the zone. He does lead the team in innings pitches and this was true even before Garza missed his last start. He's giving the team innings, but not necessarily quality innings.