The Cubs Keep Rolling: Seek Seventh Win in a Row with Arrieta Pitching Tonight

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 50
Another day, another Cubs win. The Cubs have shown during their six game win streak that they can once again score runs. On Monday they showed they can also win a game with few runs even when their starter leaves after two innings. The Cubs opened their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 2-0 win despite losing pitcher Jason Hammel in the third inning due to cramping. Moreover, the Cubs pitchers—Hammel, Travis Wood, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon—combined for a one-hitter. The Cubs got both of their runs in the fifth inning, which was started by Ben Zobrist who singled and extended his hitting streak to 16 games. Cubs good fortune continues tonight as they send Jake Arrieta to the mound to extend the team’s win streak to seven.

Arrieta (9-0, 1.72 ERA) is looking to improve to 10-0 as he faces the Dodgers for the first time since he no-hit them on August 30, 2015. In his last game, Arrieta had an uncharacteristic outing as he gave up four earned runs against the St. Louis Cardinals including one home run in just five innings pitched. Still, he got the win, which also extended the Cubs win streak when Arrieta pitches to 23 games. Arrieta and the Cubs will go for the major league record of 24 straight wins tonight.

The Dodgers will counter with their big off-season free agent acquisition Scott Kazmir (4-3, 4.84 ERA). The left hander has performed unevenly this season often exchanging wins and losses. He has won two out of his last three starts; however, in his no-decision he gave up five earned runs and two home runs. Kazmir has improved his strikeout rate over nine innings this year as it is 9.4, which are up from 7.6 from last season. His walks per nine innings has gone up as well, as last year he walked 2.9 batters over nine innings and this year is 3.4 batters.

Outlook: As always, when Jake Arrieta starts the game is about him. If he pitches his game the opposition doesn’t have much of a chance. Arrieta struggled a bit last game, but hopefully he got that out of his system. Batters are hitting .250 against Kazmir and with his high walk rate the Cubs should be able to get on base to generate some runs. Overall, The Cubs hitters should be able to put up enough runs against Kazmir to give Arrieta the small cushion he needs to get the win.

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The Cubs Back As Hottest Team in MLB Welcome the Dodgers

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 49
The Cubs have now reached 20 games over .500 in just 48 games into the MLB season after their series sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies. Their five game win streak has put to rest the growing concern of a punchless offense and inconsistent bullpen. Starting pitching has been as stellar as usual and the offense is now making an impact on each game. In the five victories the Cubs have scored 38 runs. On Sunday, John Lackey got the run support he was lacking over his previous three outings. Now the Cubs turn to Jason Hammel (6-1, 2.17 ERA) to open their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Alex Wood (1-3, 4.03 ERA) at Wrigley Field.

Wood is having a subpar year. He has shown flashes of what made him a highly valued prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization, but has mostly shown that he might not live up to expectations. Wood’s only win this season was back on April 13 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. A major issue Wood is having is that hitters have a .309 batting average with balls in play. When batters are hitting the ball they are finding gaps to get on base. That could be a matter of luck, Wood not locating his pitches, or both. Moreover, it appears that Wood has ditched his four-seam fastball and just uses a two-seam fastball as his speed pitch, which clocks out at 93 mph. Wood also only has two secondary pitches a knuckle curve and change-up. A starter usually has at least four pitches to utilize, so this also might be a reason why he is getting hit hard.

Conversely, Hammel is having a phenomenal season. Out of nine starts this year, Hammel has made it to the sixth inning in all but two. The other two games he went into the fifth inning. Hammel pitched brilliantly in his last game, against the St. Louis Cardinals, in which he pitched 7.1 innings and only gave up one earned run on four hits. The use of his slider as his primary pitch might be the reason why Hammel has been dominant all year. He has thrown his slider more this year than his four-seam and two-seam fastball. Moreover, of the 296 sliders he has thrown this year, 200 have gone for a strike. Most significantly, Hammel has gotten swings and misses on 18.9% of the sliders he has thrown this year, which shows just how dominating of a pitch it is for him.

Outlook: The key to today’s game is Cubs left handed hitters. Wood is giving up a .304 batting average to left handed hitters, which shows where he is vulnerable. Although he has had some success against right handers this year by limiting them to a .222 batting average he has still given up four home runs to hitters from that side of the plate. Still, left handers are not having difficulties hitting Wood. So it is expected that Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, and Ben Zobrist should generate most of the offense today for the Cubs. If Hammel pitches his usual game then the Cubs should have a win today and extend their win streak to six games.

 

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The Cubs Look for Series Sweep Against Phillies and to Extend Four Game Win Streak

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Frederick Krauss, Ph..D.

Game 48
The Cubs are back on a roll as they once again beat the Philadelphia Phillies. Yesterday they got a much needed solid performance by Kyle Hendricks, who threw a complete game four-hitter in their 4-1 win. The offense got two quick runs in the first inning from a lead-off home run by Dexter Fowler and a RBI double by Ben Zobrist. The Cubs will send John Lackey (4-2, 3.38 ERA) to the mound to go for the series sweep against newly acquired Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.75 ERA).

Velasquez was a second round pick by the Houston Astros in the 2010 draft out of high school. In the offseason, Velasquez along with four other prospects were included in the deal that sent reliever Ken Giles to Houston. In his second outing of the season, Velasquez threw a complete-game shutout against the San Diego Padres while striking out 16 batters. Out of nine starts this season he has not made it through the sixth inning only three times. However, in his last game, against the Detroit Tigers, Velasquez only made it through four innings giving up nine hits and three earned runs on three home runs.

Velasquez is a hard thrower as his fastball can reach 98 mph. He throws a curveball, changeup, and slider as his secondary pitches. He relies heavily on the fastball and curveball mostly. Velasquez has been able to control hitters from both side of plate as lefties and righties are hitting .214 and .229 respectively. However, is 2.9 walks per nine innings heavily contribute to his 1.15 WHIP.

Lackey has gotten no-decisions in his last two outings. On May 23rd he pitched seven innings against the St. Louis Cardinals and gave up three earned runs on four hits. He did strikeout nine, though, while only walking one. Lackey is pitching well this year, but has been unlucky with lack of run support as of late. In his last three games the Cubs offense has only scored a total of four runs, which has left Lackey with no room for error.

Outlook: Perhaps Velasquez’s last game might be a sign that he is slowing down a bit. Giving up three home runs in four innings does raise possible question marks, especially heading into a game in Wrigley against MLB’s most potent offense. He can certainly throw heat, but that’s not enough to rattle the Cubs hitters. He will need to get his curveball over for a strike in order to keep the Cubs from sitting fastball. If Velasquez is unable to throw his secondary pitches for a strike then the Cubs will be jumping on his fastball or taking their walks. The Cubs would also like to give Lackey a game of significant run support. He has been holding up well on the mound and now needs his teammates to get him back on the win column. With the offense back on track they should be able to hit Velasquez’s fastball to get runs on the board.

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Cubs Try to Extend Three-Game Win Streak as They Face Eickhoff and Phillies

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 47
The Cubs (32-14) look like they are now almost back to early-season form after overcoming an extensive offensive slump. They got three home runs yesterday—from Jorge Soler, David Ross, and Kris Bryant—to lead them to a 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Jon Lester was also back in top form as he gave up two runs, one earned run, on six hits over 6.1 innings. Lester could have easily gone longer, but the game was interrupted a few times due to rain. The Cubs now turn to Kyle Hendricks (2-4, 3.30 ERA) to extend their three-game win streak when he faces Jerad Eickhoff.

Eickhoff was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 46th round out of Olney Central College in the 2010 draft, but went back to school to finish his senior season. He was then drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round. He was a part of the package of players that was sent to the Phillies in exchange for Cole Hamels. In his first season with the major league club Eickhoff was 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA. This year he is struggling a bit with a 2-6 record and a 3.86 ERA.

Eickhoff has above average command, which is why he has an excellent ratio of strikeouts to walks per nine innings (7.2 SO/1.8 BB). The right hander features five pitches—four-seam fastball, curveball, two-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. Eickhoff’s fastball reaches 95 mph, while his curve can drop to as low as 74 mph. In his last start, against the Atlanta Braves, he pitched brilliantly only giving up five hits and no earned runs in seven innings. Prior to that game Eickhoff lost three in a row.

Outlook: Hendricks is coming off of consecutive losses. In both games he only lasted 5.1 innings. He needs to give the Cubs more than five innings pitched. Being the fifth man in this year’s Cubs rotation carries a heavy weight because if the front office wants to bolster the starting rotation at the trade deadline they will be looking at that spot. As a result, this leaves Hendricks as a marked man if he doesn’t improve. Not to say he isn’t having a good year, but with the high expectations that hover around the organization they need all starters to be on the top of their game throughout the entire season.

As for the offense, they are certainly coming to life. After the last three wins with runs of 12, 9, and 6 the Cubs have their MLB lead run differential back up to an astounding +123 runs. The key to today’s game is the left hand batters, as lefties hit .298 against Eickhoff, whereas righties hit .189. Anthony Rizzo was given a day off yesterday (except for coming in as a late-inning defensive replacement), so he should be well rested to give the Cubs some extra punch in today’s lineup. Jason Heyward was also given a day of rest so hopefully that will help him get going on a run that will bring up his .217 average.

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Lester Looks to Get Back on Track after Rough Last Outing

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 46
The Cubs offense has been the talk of the last two weeks as they struggled to consistently scores runs. However, the offensive output over the past two games should put those concerns to rest as the Cubs scored 12 and 9 runs in the past two games that led to Cubs wins over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs finally make it home after a nine-game road trip welcoming the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies are arguably the most surprising team of this young season as they were widely picked to finish towards the bottom of the National League East, but are in fact two games out of first place.

The Phillies are on the second leg of their six-game road trip. They dropped two of three from the Detroit Tigers. Adam Morgan (1-2, 5.61 ERA) will be getting the start against the Cubs. The left hander is coming off of consecutive losses. Morgan has four pitches all with average command—fastball, changeup, slider, curveball. He throws his fastball most, which can reach up to 94 mph on the radar gun. He then mixes in his slider and changeup equally and occasionally throws his curveball.

The Cubs will counter with Jon Lester (4-3, 2.60 ERA) who is also coming off of consecutive losses. In his last outing he gave up a season-high five earned runs in just 2.2 innings against the San Francisco Giants. Lester will aim to prove that the poor performance was an anomaly. For 2016, Lester’s strikeouts per nine innings are down from 2015 going from 9.09 to 8.46. Moreover, his walks per nine innings have risen from 2.06 to 2.44. However, the batting average for balls in play has dropped from .303 to .271.

Outlook: Morgan is having a difficult time getting lefties out as their average against him on the season is .308, while righties are also hitting him at a .253 average. As a result, batters from either side of the plate are finding success against him. What also bodes well for Cubs hitters is that Morgan walks 3.16 batters per nine innings. So if the Cubs remain patient at the plate like they normally do then hitters should be finding a way to get on base. On the other side, Lester needs to come out and give a good outing before the home crowd. Everyone will be curious to see if he can get back on track or will he show signs that he has hit a rough patch. If Lester can get back on track and the hitters make Morgan throw lots of pitches then the Cubs should come away with their third win in a row.

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Cubs Finally Get Offense Going and Heyward Back in Win, Arrieta Heads Back to Mound to Maintain Perfection

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 45
The Cubs got a much needed win and big offensive output yesterday when they beat the Cardinals 12-3. One could almost hear a collective sigh of relief here on the North Side after the big 6-run first inning. Manager Joe Maddon had been preaching “one-game at a time motto”, but it was apparent the team was pressing trying to make up for offensive woes from previous games. Still, as mentioned in yesterday’s column, all it takes is a string of hits in one inning to get the offense going, which is what happened in that first inning.

Jake Arrieta will be tasked with trying to get the Cubs first series on this road trip. He’ll also be looking to win his franchise record 23rd consecutive regular season game. Moreover, Arrieta will also look to remain unbeaten this year as he is 8-0. The Cardinals will send Carlos Martinez (4-4, 3.56 ERA) to the mound. The right hander started off the season hot as he won his first four games, including a win against the Cubs on April 20. Since he beat the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 26 with eight innings of shutout ball, he has lost four straight games. Only once has Martinez made it to the sixth inning.

Outlook: Arrieta is pitching so it is expected that he will be locked in and keep the Cardinals to only a run or two at most. It will be interesting to find out if the offense is in fact clicking again or if yesterday was only a mirage. The offense should have another good showing given that they are facing a pitcher who is struggling. The Cubs lefties should have a better success against Martinez has they hit him at a .255 season average. The righties have a tougher time batting .171. Overall, the signs point to Arrieta doing what he always does and the offense supporting him with enough runs to take away any doubt of the outcome from the game.

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Cubs Offense Continues to Struggle after 4-3 Loss to Cards, Hammel Faces Wacha Tonight

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 44
The Cubs suffered another tough loss on Monday night this time 4-3 to the St. Louis Cardinals as Randal Grichuk hit a two-out ninth inning walk-off home run. The loss was the eighth loss in 12 games and the three runs was another indication that all is not right with the offense. Anthony Rizzo was able to necessarily come out of his slump. Going into the game he was 1-22 on the road trip. On Monday’s game he went 1-5 to move his overall hit total on the road trip to 2-27.

The Cardinals were able to gain another game on the Cubs in the National League Central, which is now 6 games. The Pirates are in second at 5 games behind the Cubs. Tonight, the Cubs will try to get that game back by sending Jason Hammel (5-1, 2.30 ERA) to the mound against Michael Wacha (2-4, 4.03 ERA). Hammel had a forgetful outing last week when he lost to Milwaukee. The Brewers scored four runs off of Hammel on five hits. Hammel did strike out seven, though, but gave up two home runs.

Wacha has been struggling mightily as of late. After starting the season 2-0 he has lost four-in-a-row. Although he got a no-decision in his last outing, Wacha gave up six earned runs while surrendering eight hits over just four innings. Despite being hit hard, the right hander has not lost much on his fastball that has topped out near 97 mph. In addition to his fastball, he throws a cutter, change-up, and curveball. Wacha throws all four pitches with above average command.

Outlook: The right handers in the Cubs lineup should have an advantage against Wacha as right handers are hitting him at a .293 average. Although lefties are hitting just .250 against him, Rizzo is hitting right handers significantly better at .272 as opposed to his .156 average against left handers. If there was a time for Rizzo to break out of his slump this would be the game and match-up. It all just takes one good run of hits through the lineup to jumpstart the offense. So hopefully it will happen tonight and Hammel will give a strong performance to get the Cubs the win.

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Cubs Notes: Cubs Lose 8 of 12, Offense needs to be October-Proof, Heyward Return, Candelario Heating Up, Rizzo’s Slump, How Fowler Became a Switch-Hitter

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By Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs dropped the first game of their series with the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in heartbreaking fashion, a 2-out ninth inning walk-off home run by Randal Grichuk. The Cubs held a 3-1 lead in the seventh until John Lackey gave up a 2-run home run to Matt Adams. The loss was the eighth in the last twelve games. More concerning was the fact that the Cubs could only generate three runs, which is a sign that the offense continues to struggle. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell are the hitters they really need to get going, but showed no signs of breaking out of their slumps. Here is what some of the columnists are saying about the Cubs:

 

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Cubs Searching For Answers to Offense Woes, Look To Cards Pitching As Cure

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 43
The Cubs are coming off of a tough 1-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants after a dominating performance by Madison Bumgarner. Although the Cubs still own the best record in MLB at 29-13 they have now lost 7 out of 11 games. Two of those losses were 1-0 games. Yesterday, manager Joe Maddon had Anthony Rizzo bat second for the first time in an effort to jump start the offense and get Rizzo going. Unfortunately, Rizzo went 0-3 to extend his slump on the road trip to 1-22. The team is hoping that a battle with the St. Louis Cardinals will ignite a charge into the offense.

Former teammates will be facing each other as the Cardinals will be starting Adam Wainwright (4-3, 5.92 ERA) while the Cubs will turn to John Lackey (4-2, 3.31 ERA). Overall, Wainwright is having a subpar year from what the Cardinals are used to seeing. However, he started the season 0-3 and has now won four-in-a-row. Wainwright is coming off of a solid win against the Colorado Rockies in which he pitched 6.2 innings, giving up six hits and no earned runs. Lackey is coming off of a similar performance when he pitched six innings against the Milwaukee Brewers while giving up four hits and one earned run.

Outlook: As of late, the same story as been the inconsistency of the Cubs offense. It is quite possible that the Cubs can find some success against Wainwright as batters from the right side are hitting .305 while batters from the left are hitting .305. The Cubs need to take advantage of opportunities, especially with runners in scoring position. They are now on their third series on the road, which can also take a toll. Still, the Cubs need to focus on coming out with a series win to at least prevent the Cardinals from gaining ground in the National League Central, which is currently at a seven games.

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Cubs Go for Series Win against Giants on ESPN, Face Bumgarner

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 42
The Cubs look to earn a series win against the San Francisco Giants tonight in the ESPN Sunday Night game. The Cubs won the first game 8-1 on Friday night getting the usual strong performance by Jake Arrieta. Just when it was thought that the Cubs offense was making a turn for the better they were unable to score runs off of Giants starter Matt Cain on Saturday who came into the game with an over seven ERA. The game resulted in a Giants 5-3 win.

Tonight the Cubs face the tough task of facing the Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. The big left hander is having another good year as he is 5-2 on the season with a 2.45 ERA. Bumgarner is coming off of an impressive outing against the San Diego Padres. He pitched a complete game giving up one run on five hits while striking out 11. The Cubs will counter with Kyle Hendricks (2-3, 3.51 ERA) who is coming off of a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in which he gave up four runs in 5.1 innings.

Outlook: Bottom line is that the Cubs need to get their offense going one way or another. Facing Bumgarner is not going help the cause, but they need to find a way. Anthony Rizzo is having a difficult time at the plate during this road trip having gone 1-19. The balls are not falling for him, but hopefully they will soon. Still, it does not look good for him against Bumgarner as lefties are only hitting .171 against him. Righties, on the other hand, are hitting .237, which bodes well for hitters like Kris Bryant who is having a good series with two home runs. This game certainly does not favor the Cubs, but it still does not mean they can’t win. If Hendricks can hold the Giants to a few runs and go six innings then the Cubs have a chance.

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