The Cubs head south and a little bit west to Houston for an interleague series against the Astros starting on Memorial Day afternoon. Both teams are in first place in their respective divisions, with the Cubs holding a 1.5 game lead in the Central over the Brewers and the Astros holding an already bloated 6.5 game lead in the very mediocre AL West. Neither team is comin’ in real hot of late, as the Cubs have gone 5-5 in their last 10, while the Astros are at 6-4.
Regardless of recent mediocrity, both teams have the ability to be really, really good. The Astros won 11 of 12 before that stretch above and are still in the midst of a 17-5 run. The Cubs, meanwhile, were 10-4 before these last 10 games.
These are two of the best teams in baseball when healthy and at full strength, and there’s every possibility they will both be playoff teams. Heck, there’s even the chance they’ll meet in October if things fall right for both teams. But that’s a long time from now and there’s a long way to go.
The Cubs are coming off a three-game set with the much-improved Reds at Wrigley Field in which they lost two of three. The series didn’t go so well for the Cubs, as the Reds flew home with Joe Maddon‘s favorite post-series entrée of meatloaf. While the series didn’t pan out for the home team, there were some developments in the series that could factor into what happens in Houston.
The Astros, meanwhile, are without José Altuve and George Springer, who are both on the IL. Despite those absences, the ‘Stros still feature a formidable lineup led by Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, and Carlos Correa. In fact, seven different players have put up at least 1.0 fWAR on the season so far, with the injured Springer at 2.7 fWAR and the not so injured Bregman right behind him at 2.5 fWAR. Brantley and Correa, checking in at 1.9 and 1.8 fWAR respectively, are also having All-Star caliber seasons.
The Astros are a right-hand-heavy team offensively, with Brantley and Josh Reddick as the only regular lefties in the lineup. With both Jon Lester and Cole Hamels going in the series, it will be interesting to see how unbalanced skipper A.J. Hinch will elect to go with his lineup.
While the Astros’ offense sounds pretty tough, they’re also second in the AL in team ERA, although the Cubs will miraculously miss Justin Verlander and Brad Peacock, who have combined to go 13-3 on the season. The remaining pitching matchups won’t seem too foreign to the Cubs despite the interleague matchup, as old pals Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley will make starts in the series. Kyle Schwarber probably remembers Cole, right?
Having the DH in this series could have the Cubs keeping an extra pitcher in the ‘pen, which they’ve had since optioning Mark Zagunis to Triple-A. This means Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Javy Báez, or even Anthony Rizzo might get a start as the DH in one of the games to get them off their feet a bit on defense. Maddon could even use the DH in tandem with a day off for some of this guys, as he is wont to give everyday players two consecutive days off when he can.
Game and Broadcast Info
- Monday, May 27 at 1:10 CT on WGN
- Tuesday, May 28 at 7:10 CT on ABC 7
- Wednesday, May 29 at 7:10 CT on ESPN and NBC Sports Chicago
What to Watch For
- The first and only thing on many Cubs fans’ minds heading into this showdown is Bryant’s status. The slugger was cleared to fly with the team, which should signal that he’s okay, but brains are fickle things and you don’t wanna mess around with them. Hopefully he’s fine because the last thing we need is a lingering injury derailing another season for the Cubs’ slugger.
- Can the bullpen hold up? With the Iowa Shuttle in full effect the past couple days and, really, most of the season, will the broken Rubik’s Cube be able to hold down the fort until Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow return? Better yet, will Maddon be able to figure it out without using Victor Caratini?
- Will Schwarber continue his run as leadoff hitter? Minus a lackluster Sunday afternoon (and really, wasn’t it one to write off for most of the Cubs?), Schwarber has been an OBP machine at the top of the order. After a slow start, the powerful lefty has slashed .247/.374/.464 in his last 30 games, including 21 walks.
- Is Lester okay? After two sub-par outings for the bulldog, Lester admitted “something was off” and that he “needs to figure it out.” I echo the sentiment in the latter part of his comments as well. The Cubs need their veteran ace to be just that, and he also needs to work deep into the game so that he’s not handcuffing Maddon with the bullpen covering five innings for him.
- Báez got back on the proverbial horse yesterday after a little bit of an offensive skid, going 3-for-4 with a bomb in the finale against the Reds. El Mago still looks like he’s a little slow with the magic wand and in some pain, aftereffects from his heel contusion that probably hasn’t healed fully.
- Rizzo has been scorching hot of late, posting a .359/.440/.718 slash line with eight homers in May. Over the last seven days, those numbers get even crazier at .500/.563/.929. We’ll just say the big lefty down at first base is pretty hot right now and leave it at that.
Ed. note: The featured image is from a design by Hex Head Art, with whom CI has a partnership. They have different options for all 30 MLB teams and dozens of colleges, so check it out if you have a chance.