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2019 Series Preview #18: Chicago Cubs @ Houston Astros

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The Astros (35-19, 1st in AL West) celebrate Memorial day by opening their first interleague series of 2019 against the Cubs (30-21, 1st in NL Central)

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Recency Bias

Cubs

The Cubs arrive in Houston after a couple of weeks that have seen them alternate between series wins and losses with a split thrown in for good measure. The most recent week saw them tussle with the Phillies for the split before suffering their second series loss against the Reds in as many weeks. The Cubs took over the NL Central division lead a couple of weeks back and have managed to stay just ahead of the Brewers, who have been right on their tails the whole season.

Of Bats and Men

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Chicago Cubs Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

This last week has seen some pretty fine work out of Anthony Rizzo, who is hitting a clean .500 in his last 7 games, including 3 homers and a stolen base. He’s been a solid force for the Cubs all season with a .987 OPS in 47 games so far in 2019.

Kris Bryant has also been on a tear this week with a .360/429/.600 slash line in his last 7 games, but left yesterday’s match against the Reds early after a collision with Jason Heyward. Bryant took the brunt of the hit to his neck and head during that hit. Though he did fly to Houston with the team, it is unclear how much Bryant will be able to play in this series.

Luckily for the Cubs they have been getting solid performances from a number of their starters lately. Albert Amora Jr, David Bote, Kyle Schwarber, and Jason Heyward have all been swinging hot bats and boast an OPS above or hovering near .900 in the last two series.

Oddly those names do not include Javier Báez, who has easily been one of the best players in the league but is in a bit of a cold spell. Catcher Wilson Contreras also fits that bill for the Cubs, having been on a tear for most of the season only to cool off in recent days, though not nearly as much as Báez.

Indeed, Astros pitching will face a test against a Cubs offense that ranks near the top of a number of offensive categories. As a team, they are second in the league in OBP, third in OPS, and fourth in SLG. Though one consolation that the Astros can take is that the Cubs rank just behind Houston most of those categories.

On the Pen

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs are currently dealing with a closer-by-committee situation as they wait for the return of the injured Pedro Strop, who is due back from the IL any day now after suffering a hamstring injury. Strop previously took over the job after Brandon Morrow required surgery on his elbow, and had been filling in admirably until going down with the hammy issue,

Since then former Mariner Steve Cishek has been seeing a majority of chances to get saves as the season has gone on. He has had himself a pretty good 2019 so far, though he stumbled in his last outing, surrendering 2 runs without logging an out. That did come after nearly a month without surrendering a run though.

Brandon Kintzler has probably been the best reliever out of the Cubs’ pen though, having the most innings and holding opposing players to a healthy .190 AVG and 0.90 WHIP. Brad Brach has also had his number called a number of times this season, and is the only other reliever besides Kintzler with an ERA below 3.00 and more than 20 innings pitched.

You can also expect to see Tyler Chatwood in relief for the Cubs after making the move out of the rotation to start 2019. Since then he’s done a decent job as a swing man, making one spot start and eating innings when needed. Though not a relief ace, he’s certainly been much better out of the pen than he was in the 2018 rotation.

The Cubs’ bullpen is near the bottom third when it comes to most stats, though a good chunk of that comes from a terrible start to the season. Since early April they’ve managed to be a decent group of arms, but aren’t exactly a strength for Chicago. They are certainly vulnerable to giving up walks, something a good team like the Astros can take advantage of.

Astros

Houston will welcome their old division rival after taking their second straight weekend series win over the Red Sox and exacting some revenge for the 2019 ALCS. While they managed to take two of three, it didn’t exactly feel like too much of a win thanks to the loss of George Springer for multiple weeks with a hamstring strain. Aledmys Díaz would leave yesterday’s game after also tweaking his hammy, and a trip to the IL looks imminent. Fortunately the Astros own a sizable lead in the division and help may be on the way as Altuve made a rehab start in Nashville last night.

Of Bats and Men

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros’ bats have fallen off a little in the past week as they went on a string of seven games where they scored an average of just 3 runs per. This is after an extended period where the team was popping off like crazy against opposing pitching.

One batter who hasn’t lost a step is Marisnick, though most of his damage has come via the long ball and in short duty. He’s also been a defensive whiz, so you’ll take a low average along with the homers he’s mashing if he can keep that going.

Unfortunately, the injured Aledmys is probably the best of the regulars who played this week, with a .368/.381/.474 slasher and a couple of doubles. Bregman wasn’t too far off of that with a good week himself but, as per usual, he did it mostly by getting on base at a .400 clip and hitting the ball for extra bases when he did get a hold of one.

After that things start to fade for the Astros compared to how how the offense was chugging along a couple of weeks ago. Guys are still getting on base at a regular pace with 9 batters at an OBP of .300 or higher, but the power hasn’t really been there this week. However, they have been good enough to make several good pitching performances stand up even with a somewhat wobbly bullpen.

On the pen

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For what really feels like the first time in a long time, the bullpen did not seem like its usual lock-down self in the most recent series against the Red Sox. The defending champs are no pushovers, of course, but both Pressly and Osuna saw scoreless inning streaks snapped, with Pressly’s sitting at a rather impressive 39.

Osuna had a couple of rough appearances in a row, allowing the Red Sox to tie it up in the top of the 9th his last time out. That would thankfully lead to a walkoff in the bottom of the 9th, but still not great that it came tot hat. That was just part of the 9 runs that the Astros relievers gave up this week.

Special mention to Brady Rodgers, who had himself a nice little debut to 2019 this week. Rodgers would go two innings with a couple of strikeouts that was only marred by a solo home run in his one outing.

Harris and Devenski were probably the best out of the pen this week, and while that is par for the course for Harris, it was refreshing to see from Devo. They would all come against the White Sox, but Devo went three innings this week without giving up a run and striking out 4.

While the Astros’ pen continues to remain one of the best in the league it did take a bit of a slap in the last series. However, they should be able to shake it off as there are always going to be somewhat rough patches for any set of arms.

Pitching Match Ups

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1: Cole Hamels, LHP (4-0, 3.38 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole, RHP (4-5, 4.11 ERA)

Old nemesis Cole Hamels will get the start in game 1 for the Cubs as he comes in riding a pretty good 2019 season. His most recent start wasn’t super-stellar though, as he gave up 3 runs in just 4 innings against Philadelphia. However, Cole certainly has the ability to get into the sixth inning and keep opposing teams to 2 runs or less, as he’s done in 5 of his 10 games this season.

Houston gives the ball to Gerrit Cole in a game I refuse to call the Battle of the Coles. Cole stumbled his last time out against the White Sox, where he was tagged with 6 runs across 5 innings. Though some of that was given up by Josh James in relief, Cole has had some struggles this season, and this is the second time we’ve seen him shelled. However, he has shown an ability to bounce back and his peripheral numbers suggest that he is suffering from a little bit of bad BABIP luck.

Game 2: Jon Lester, LHP (3-3, 2.68 ERA) vs. Corbin Martin (1-1, 4.97 ERA)

Jon Lester makes this start after a couple of disastrous outings in a row that came after what had been a rather excellent 2019 season. He was chased after just 4 innings against the Phillies his last time out, and gave up 7 runs, 4 earned, in that time. This followed a 4.1 inning outing against the Nats that saw him give up 5 runs. This was all after three straight starts of at least 6 innings where he didn’t give up an earned run, though his defense cost him some unearned ones. Lester is a crafty veteran, so I wouldn’t expect his recent bad luck to continue for too long.

Martin’s last start saw him go just 3.1 innings against the White Sox and give up 4 runs while doing so. The command seemed a little better than his previous start against Boston, even if the final results weren’t as good. With McHugh still on the IL, Corbin will be given another chance to prove he can flash what he did in his MLB debut, and he’ll have his hands full against a beefy Cubs offense.

Game 3: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (4-4, 3.34 ERA) vs. Wade Miley, LHP (5-2, 3.32 ERA)

Hendricks gets the ball for the Cubs after a quality start against the Reds where he struck out 9 batters across 6 innings of 3-run ball. Hendricks has been solid for the Cubs for a majority of the season, though, and can occasionally flash big-time stuff. He had an 81-pitch complete game shutout earlier in the season, and followed that up by going 8 innings in the next two. Hendricks has had some clunkers though, but it’s not as common as a good performance.

Houston counters with Wade Miley who had yet another solid performance in his most recent outing. He would toss 6 innings of 1-run ball against the Red Sox after going 5 innings and giving up 3 against them in his previous start. His most recent outing also saw Miley set a new season high with 8 strikeouts against the BoSox. Miley has probably been the most steady arm in the rotation after Justin Verlander this season, and continues to prove himself as a savvy offseason pickup.

Fun Fact

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Monday, May 27th @ 1:10 pm CDT
Listen: Cubs - 670 The Score / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Cubs - WGN / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Game 2: Tuesday, May 28th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Cubs - 670 The Score / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Cubs - ABC 7 / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Game 3: Wednesday, May 29th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Cubs - 670 The Score / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Cubs - NBCSCH / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / ESPN

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (8 votes)
  • 54%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (39 votes)
  • 28%
    Cubs Win 2-1
    (20 votes)
  • 5%
    Cubs Sweep 3-0
    (4 votes)
71 votes total Vote Now