After jumping to a 14-3 record post All-Star break, the Cubs have scuffled of late, having lost six of their last eight games, including a series loss to the woeful San Francisco Giants. The good news is Chicago still has a one-game lead in the NL Central. The bad news is things don’t get any easier, as the Cubs are in Phoenix to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While it was dominant for much of the season, the Cubs bullpen has hit a bit of a rough patch. We all know about the second-half struggles of Carl Edwards Jr., but he is not alone in this regard. Closer Wade Davis has been less than lights-out recently. In nine post-break innings, Davis has a WHIP of 1.89 to go along with an ERA of 4.00. The advanced metrics paint an even bleaker picture, as his FIP is 6.47 (2.00 in the first half) and his OPS allowed sits at .846 (.506 in first half).
So far, Davis’ struggles have really only hurt the Cubs once, but I doubt Joe Maddon wants to see that tightrope walk every time his closer takes the mound. Of course, the fact that Davis has a stronger track record as a reliever than what this relatively small sample size indicates, it leads you to believe he can turn things around.
Although Arizona is a good team, its play out of the break hasn’t exactly been setting the baseball world on fire. Despite taking a series earlier this month against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Diamondbacks are just 11-14 in the second half, including their own series loss to the Giants.
That said, the Diamondbacks don’t hold a Wild Card spot by accident. Their pitching is strong, as evidenced by their team ERA of 3.54, good for second-lowest in MLB behind only the Dodgers. The Cubs will miss ace Zack Greinke in the series, but will face Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley, who are no slouches in their own right.
On the offensive side, Chicago will have to pitch carefully to the heart of the Arizona lineup. Paul Goldschmidt (.322/.435/1.031), Jake Lamb (.265/.374/.909) and the recently-acquired J.D. Martinez (.288/.375/.998) form one of the more potent trios in baseball, having combined for 73 home runs and 235 RBI thus far.
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Friday, August 11 at 8:40 CT on CSN-C
- Saturday, August 12 at 7:10 CT on MLB Network (out of market) and WGN
- Sunday, August 13 at 3:10 CT on ABC 7
What To Watch For
- After a relatively injury-free 2016, the Cubs have not been so lucky this season. One week after Addison Russell was placed on the DL, Willson Contreras strained his hamstring on Wednesday while running to first, putting him on the shelf for the foreseeable future. This removes the Cubs’ hottest bat from the lineup, so some shuffling will be necessary to try to mask this loss.
- With Contreras out, Alex Avila should see the majority of the starts behind the plate going forward. While no one expects him to match Contreras’ output, the Cubs have to hope Avila finds a happy middle ground between his ridiculous first half (.299/.423/.958) and his disappointing second half (.122/.213/.408).
- Goldschmidt is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in the game today, but he has been especially deadly against the Cubs throughout his career. When facing Chicago, Goldschmidt owns a .363/.473/1.183 slash line with 11 home runs and 35 RBI in just 34 games. In the three-game series earlier this month, Goldschmidt was 5-for-11 with three home runs and seven RBI. Yikes.
- While Walker has been relatively split-neutral in his career (.229/.301/.709 vs. L compared to .251/.308/.728 vs. R), Joe Maddon may want to consider putting some extra lefties into the lineup against the young right-hander. In 20 2/3 innings at Chase Field this season, left-handed hitters have tagged Walker to the tune of .267/.347/.883 with five home runs.