Series Preview – Cubs vs. Pirates
The defending champions host division rival Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates for the first weekend home series of 2017. The Cubs took the 2016 season series in dominate fashion, going 14-4 with a +41 run differential. All games begin at 1:20PM (CT).
Pitching match-ups for the series are as follows:
Gerrit Cole has struggled out of the gate in his two starts against Boston and Atlanta. He has allowed 8 runs between the two starts while serving up 3 home runs (BOS-1, ATL-2). Between the two starts he has only struck out six batters. In his career, Cole is 6-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 45.0 innings pitched at Wrigley Field. He has also never allowed a home run. Gerrit will be making his first start in Wrigley since a 3 hit, 7 Strikeout 2-1 victory on May 15th. You might remember this start for his post game comments, in which he insisted “the Cubs are not the best team in baseball.” I’m sure that’s in the back of the players minds.
The Cubs will get their first look highly touted pitching prospect, Tyler Glasnow. The 23 year old right-hander made four starts last season, giving up 11 runs in 23.1 innings of work. He has also struggled with command, allowing 13 walks to 24 strikeouts in that same span. So far in 2017, Glasnow, was beat up for 5 earned runs through only 1.2 inning of work against the red hot Cincinnati Reds where he walked 5 and struck out 1. He features a fastball, curve-ball, and change-up, which he throws 64%, 32%, and 4% of the time respectively. His average fastball velocity is 93.6 during his time in the majors. The Cubs patient hitting approach should bode well against the young Buc.
Jameson Taillon has come out of the gate much better than both Cole and Glasnow. In his first start, he blanked the Red Sox for seven innings, allowing five hits and striking out six. He did also walk three batters. Taillon followed that up with a solid outing against the Reds, allowing just two runs on four hits including one home run (Duvall) over six innings of work. He hit one batter and walked another. He sports the same arsenal of pitches as Tyler, but expect to see more changeups out of Jameson (10.5%).
Gregory Polanco (.412) and Josh Harrison(.333) have hit Kyle Hendricks well in 17 and 12 at bats, respectively. Each has hit one home run off the reigning ERA leader. Addison Russell (.333) and Anthony Rizzo (.348) have the most success against Gerrit Cole among hitters with 10+ at bats. Jon Jay carries a .286 average in 14 at bats vs the Pirate ace, while Jason Heyward has struggled hitting just .167 in 18 tries. Javier Baez is the only Cub with a home run vs Cole.
The Cubs have never faced Saturday starter Glasnow, while the Pirates are rather familiar with Jake Arrieta. Among hitters with 10+ at bats, only Andrew McCutchen, John Jaso, and David Freese have an average at or above .250. Freese and Jaso have taken Jake deep, along with Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco.
No Cub has faced Jameson Taillon more than 5 times, but small sample size shows the hitters like what they see. Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo have accounted for 4 home runs against the 25 year old. Rizzo with two in just five at bats. Jon Lester probably doesn’t get along too well with David Freese, Starling Marte, or Jordy Mercer. His history with McCutchen and Harrison are more favorable. Only McCutchen, Mercer, and Chris Stweart have hit home runs off of Big-Jon.
Keys to the Series
I hope to see the Cubs offense come alive in this series. So far they have played solid defense and pitched very well, scratching out wins in close games. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell are on the home run board, lets’s hope that sparks the offense. Jason Heyward has looked more comfortable in the box this season, let’s hope he can turn the page against Cole, and take advantage of some fresh arms on Saturday and Sunday. Jon Lester and Willson Contreras will be back for another go on Sunday for hopefully a third successful building block in their young battery relationship. Mark Melancon is no longer closing games for Pittsburgh, expect lefty Tony Watson in late inning jams.
This series can set the tone for the rest of the league as to what it might look like facing Kyle, Jake, and Jon back to back. Look for them to let Gerrit Cole and the two rookies know who the best team in the central is, right out of the gate. Never been a fan of raising the Jolly-Rodger, lets fly some Ws.