The Royals and Cubs both clinched playoff spots last week, the first division title in 30 years for the Royals and the first post-season spot for the Cubs since 2008. Both teams have been a bit of a surprise this year, energizing their respective fanbase. The two teams matched up in late May, splitting two games, but having their Saturday evening game washed out. Tonight, they make up that postponed game in what could be a World Series preview.
The Cubs have yet to have a losing month this year, but were hovering a bit above .500 most of the year until August when they took fire. They've gone 35-18 since the start of August, only the Mets have played better in the National League over that stretch.
Chicago has a stable full of good young hitters, but are only sixth in the league in runs scored at 4.28 per game. They draw the second-most walks, but strikeout the most, with rookie Kris Bryant leading baseball with an amazing 188 strikeouts. The Cubs are fifth in home runs, with nine players in double-digits. Bryant has hit 21 of his 26 home runs in the "friendly confines" of Wrigley Field and the Cubs overall have hit 54% of their dingers at home.
The Cubs can swipe some bases, taking 90 bags at a 72% success rate. Four basestealers are in double-digits for steals, including slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Overall the Cubs are fourth in baseball in Baserunning Runs. On defense, the Cubs are a mixed bag. Addison Russell has been fantastic up the middle, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are surprisingly good on the corners. Dexter Fowler seems miscast as a centerfielder however and catcher Miguel Montero has thrown out just 21% of would-be basestealers.
Second-year pitcher Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs. Hendricks barely hits 90 on the radar gun, but has still has the 17th best strikeout rate in the National League. He misses bats by throwing one of the best changeups in baseball that comes in slow, averaging 80 mph. Hendricks has struggled recently, with a 5.76 ERA over his last nine starts, and he has failed to pitch into the sixth inning in 18 of his 30 starts this season.
Cubs relievers have the fifth-lowest ERA in the National League at 3.46. Closer Hector Rondon has a 1.74 ERA and has struck out a hitter per inning, converting 28-of-32 save opportunities. Relievers Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, and Justin Grimm all strike out well over a hitter-per-inning. The Cubs have even gotten useful relief innings out of dumped players like Fernando Rodney and Trevor Cahill.
The Royals have dominated the National League Central Division in interleague play, going 13-6. The Cubs and Royals could each be two of the more interesting teams to watch for in the post-season. They may play it close to the vest on Monday night, but we could get a glimpse of what each is capable in October.