Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers (1-2) at Chicago Cubs (1-2)

The Brewers dropped their opening series to the Cardinals, losing to Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn in three relatively high-scoring games. The Cubs, meanwhile, did their best to try to have the bullpen/defense blow late leads in all three games against the Washington Nationals. This will be Aramis Ramirez's first appearance in Wrigley not wearing a Cubs or Pirates uniform. I'm hoping Cubs fans applaud him for his past contributions to the team, but I'm not holding my breath. It's also Ryan Braun's first appearance since urine-gate. The Brewers didn't make any particularly big splashes this offseason, relative to last year's blockbuster Marcum and Greinke trades. They signed Ramirez, and lost Betancourt (a gain) and Fielder (a big loss). They signed C Jonathan Lucroy to a ~5/11 extension at the end of spring training, and picked up reserve outfielder Norichika Aoki from Japan.

Team Overviews

As mentioned last time, these are the 2011 numbers since we don't have much of a sample for this year. NL rankings are listed in parentheses

Overall

  Brewers Cubs
wOBA .327 (2nd) .313 (8th)
BSR -3.9 (10th) -12 (16th)
UZR 16.2 (4th) -9.5 (8th)
DRS 23 (5th) -36 (13th)
SP FIP 3.75 (5th) 4.25 (11th)
RP FIP 3.24 (3rd) 3.85 (5th)

Starting lineups

ZiPS projections listed for each player

Brewers wOBA wOBA Cubs
2B Rickie Weeks .356 .330 RF David DeJesus
CF Carlos Gomez .303 .295 2B Darwin Barney
LF Ryan Braun .385 .336 SS Starlin Castro
3B Aramis Ramirez .351 .322 LF Alfonso Soriano
RF Corey Hart .351 .339 1B Bryan LaHair
SS Alex Gonzalez .295 .314 3B Ian Stewart
1B Mat Gamel .335 .323 CF Marlon Byrd
C Jonathan Lucroy .305 .334 C Geovany Soto

As much as we complain about the lineup stuff, looking at the projections there's really only two easy choices. Bat DeJesus first, because he's the only one with OBP worth a damn (unless Soto is on), and bat Barney last. As for the rest, just draw names out of a hat and it wouldn't make too much of a difference. When your three best hitters are all projected in the .330s it's not going to matter that much.

Injury report

As soon as LaHair felt well enough to play, Blake DeWitt was scratched with back spasms of his own. Way down in the minors, tough sign draft pick Dillon Maples is injured and should be out until around the start of Boise's season this summer (I can't seem to dig up a link for this injury right now though…). The Brewers are all relatively healthy, though Corey Hart had a procedure on his knee early in spring training. It doesn't seem to be slowing him down, as he's hit three homers already.

Players to watch

The obvious choices for this series are the Brewers big swingers Ramirez and Braun, for the reasons mentioned above. The Cubs offense has yet to produce a HR, but they should hit a few this series, though it's too bad Randy Wolf won't make an appearance.

Pitching Probables

This year's ZiPS projected ERA and FIP in parentheses

Monday: Shaun Marcum, RHP (3.51, 3.55) vs Chris Volstad, RHP (4.82, 4.63), 6:05 PM CT

Sometimes it's easy to forget that Shawn Marcum is a damn good pitcher. For some reason I thought he struggled last year with the Brewers, but he actually posted slightly better numbers than in Toronto the previous year. Of course, once you factor in the change from the AL East to the run-starved 2011 NL it's not quite so remarkable (though still great!). I might have been remembering his poor September as the Brewers were making a playoff push – he gave up five or more runs in three of his five september starts, and got absolutely shelled in the playoffs giving up 16 runs in 9.1 innnings across three starts. As Cubs fans are well familiar with, it's not too hard to have three bad games in the playoffs even when you're very good.

Volstad had a quietly solid spring, and there was no chance that he wouldn't make the rotation given who he was traded for. Expect a steady diet of ground balls, and hope that the Cubs infielders actually get to them. He's the 4 1/2th starter on the team, since Maholm missed a bunc hof time in ST with the flu.

Tuesday: Chris Narveson, LHP (4.32, 4.22) vs Paul Maholm, LHP (4.20, 3.98), 7:05 PM CT

Narveson had a fairly unassuming minor league career, but managed to hold his own as a starter in 2010 after passing his bullpen test in 09. I'm trying to come up with something interesting to say about him from his numbers, but there isn't much. He's pretty much the definition of an average back-end left-handed starter.

The Cubs signed Maholm to a 1/4.25 deal with a 6.5m option for 2013. It could turn out to be a good bargain. Maholm toiled away in obscurity in Pittsburgh, an extreme groundball pitcher in front of a leaky infield defense. Things aren't going to be that much better for him here. Aside from the flue bug that sidelined him in spring training, Maholm had a shoulder injury that shut him down at the end of last year. We haven't heard anythign about it so far, so hopefully no news is good news in that department.

Wednesday: Yovani Gallardo, RHP (3.46, 3.37) vs Ryan Dempster, RHP (4.24, 4.10), 7:05 PM CT

Gallardo took a page from Dempster's 2011 opening day start and got absolutely shelled. The Cardinals hit four homers off of him and he walked five in less than four innings. Gallardo has a lot less mileage on his arm than I thought (mostly due to his gruesome ACL injury in 2008) and actually had his best year in 2011, pushing down his walk rate by an even two batters per nine below his 2009 numbers, while maintaining his strikeout an inning pace.

Dempster had an incredible outing on opening day, only to see it spoiled by the pen. It was the best Cubs opening day start by game score in about 25 years, and his best start since a mid-July outing against the Marlins last year. The wind was helping him, but as he said in the post-game comments, you have to pitch to the conditions. It's not like the defense was bailing him out all the time either – he struck out ten batters.

Thursday: Zack Greinke, RHP (2.98, 2.70) vs Matt Garza, RHP (3.52, 3.52), 1:20 PM CT

This is a matchup of two players who will be playing the Maybe They'll Get An Extension game this season. Greinke obviously is less likely to get traded, both because the Brewers should contend this year and because they'll be able to get draft picks if he leaves at the end of the year. Though curiously enough according to Cot's he does not have no-trade protection this year (while he did in '10 and '11). G

Greinke pitched well in his first start, striking out seven, walking none and allowing four hits in seven innings against the Cardinals. Garza struck out five in six innings and gave up a 2-run homer to Adam LaRoche, before seeing the bullpen blow the game in a similar fashion to the opener.

Prediction

Cubs win tonight, lose the next three

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