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Chicago Cubs Series Preview: A split between Wrigley and KC

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The Royals played a Chicago team in Kansas City, leave to play a different Chicago team in Chicago and then come back to Kansas City to play that same team. All in the span of three days!

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals start a four-game set against the Chicago Cubs today that begins in Wrigley and returns to Kauffman Stadium for the final two on Wednesday. Outside of some bullpen issues, the Cubs look as strong as they have in quite awhile with a potent offense and a rotation doing their job over the first week and a half of the season. They’re largely the same team that finished 84-78 last year. Of course, that team also had a Pythagorean record of 90-72, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’ve been so good. The biggest questions for them are the bullpen, which has seen Craig Kimbrel struggle mightily and Kris Bryant, who is out with illness in spite of testing negative for COVID-19. They’ve also (I believe) been the only team without a positive test, so things have been going pretty perfectly for him so far this year, which is bad news for the Royals who are not exactly doing well in any sense.

Royals vs. Cubs Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Cubs
Category Royals Cubs
Winning % .300 .778
Team wRC+ 92 122
Team xFIP 4.72 4.09
Run Differential -14 10
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 0.5 Tyler Chatwood, 0.7

Cubs Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Kris Bryant 3B 29 .120 .241 .160 10.3% 34.5% 25 -0.2
Anthony Rizzo 1B 40 .214 .450 .536 15.0% 17.5% 177 0.5
Javier Baez SS 40 .243 .300 .541 5.0% 25.0% 127 0.3
Kyle Schwarber LF 37 .250 .351 .500 13.5% 24.3% 134 0.3
Willson Contreras C 31 .333 .419 .630 3.2% 35.5% 186 0.4
Jason Heyward RF 25 .217 .280 .217 8.0% 8.0% 46 -0.1
Nico Hoerner 2B 27 .292 .333 .333 7.4% 18.5% 87 0.1
Ian Happ CF 32 .286 .375 .679 12.5% 28.1% 181 0.5
Victor Caratini DH 25 .217 .280 .261 4.0% 28.0% 56 -0.1

Cubs Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Josh Phegley C 6 .000 .167 .000 16.7% 33.3% -31 -0.1
Jason Kipnis 2B 12 .455 .500 1.000 8.3% 25.0% 295 0.3
David Bote INF/OF 21 .278 .381 .667 14.3% 28.6% 180 0.3
Albert Almora, Jr. OF 13 .100 .308 .100 15.4% 30.8% 45 0.0
Steven Souza, Jr. OF 12 .100 .250 .200 16.7% 41.7% 38 0.0

Cubs Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Rowan Wick 3 2.1 0 0 9.1% 9.1% 0.00 5.04 0.0
Jeremy Jeffress 3 3.0 0 0 14.3% 7.1% 0.00 5.53 0.1
Kyle Ryan 4 4.0 0 0 12.5% 0.0% 9.00 4.31 0.0

Probable Pitchers

August 3, 7:15pm - Danny Duffy vs. Alec Mills

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Danny Duffy 2 9.1 0 1 26.3% 2.6% 5.79 4.39 0.3
Alec Mills 1 6.0 1 0 13.6% 9.1% 3.00 4.57 0.0

This one starts off with a former Royals prospect, Alec Mills, getting the nod. The Royals traded Mills to the Cubs before spring training in 2017 for Donnie Dewees, who is now back in the Cubs organization and posted a decent, but nothing special line in AAA last year for them. Mills has seen sporadic action for the big league club over the last couple seasons, totaling 54 innings, but with 65 strikeouts and just 18 walks. His first start this year went pretty well against a Reds team expected to be pretty good, but he consistently gets it done without top notch stuff. His fastballs average around 90, but where he did his damage was with his changeup last year with a whiff rate of 43.5 percent. His curve and slider were also incredibly effective in his 36 innings in 2019. In his career, he’s been dominant against righties with a .583 OPS allowed, but against lefties, that jumps to .762. That means there should be an opportunity in this one for Brett Phillips and Franchy Cordero in all likelihood. One sort of random thing to note is that out of the 73 base runners he’s allowed in his career, only one has attempted a steal (and he was safe), but I wonder if the Royals might try to change that.

Danny Duffy has shown very good stuff over his first two starts of the season, but he was bit by a two-run homer off the bat of Jonathan Schoop in his last start. He did have 10 swinging strikes in 75 pitches, which was a big jump from the three he had in his previous start. Maybe more impressive than anything, though, has been the fact that he’s allowed just one walk in his 9.1 innings. The Cubs are the most patient team he’s faced of the three, so that might change, but his stuff has been so much better than in previous seasons and he’s been working up in the zone more that I’m very curious how he performs against a legitimately good offense. It’ll be the biggest test of his season and might answer the question of if a team might give up a legitimate prospect for him either this season or in the offseason.

August 4, 7:15pm - Brady Singer vs. Kyle Hendricks

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brady Singer 2 10.0 0 0 25.0% 10.0% 3.60 3.89 0.0
Kyle Hendricks 2 13.1 1 1 23.5% 3.9% 4.05 2.93 0.4

While Kyle Hendricks hasn’t approached his incredible 2016 season where he posted a 2.13 ERA in 190 innings, he has been one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball with a 3.15 ERA in almost 1,000 career innings. He doesn’t do it with velocity as he uses his sinker at 86-87, but he gets fantastic results. This year has been a bit of a weird one for him already. In his first start, he threw a shutout on Opening Day, allowing just three hits to a good Brewers offense with nine strikeouts and no walks. Then he gave up six runs over 4.1 against another good offense in Cincinnati. He, of course, won’t be facing a good offense in this one. The best bet to get Hendricks is early in the count. Last year, in 75 plate appearances that ended on the first pitch, opponents hit .386/.405/.729, and that makes some sense as he throws a ton of first pitch strikes. If you let the count get too deep against him, he’ll start to manipulate his pitches and batters will end up on the Pitching Ninja Twitter account getting some sword awards. If you want to bet on a Maddux, this would be a good game to place that bet.

Brady Singer gets his third career start with another one on the road. While he had a similar line to his first start, he wasn’t quite as crisp as he was in Cleveland. That could actually be seen as a positive given that his stuff wasn’t quite as good but he still was able to get the job done. And, hey, the Royals have won two of their three games with Singer on the mound, so you have to feel like they have a chance. HIs slider is going to be very important to him in this one as Baez, Rizzo, Happ and Schwarber have all struggled against sliders. If Singer’s is good, he should have his third straight good start. If it’s not, well, he better hope that changeup really is improved.

August 5, 7:05pm - Yu Darvish vs. Kris Bubic

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Yu Darvish 2 10.0 1 1 30.0% 2.5% 2.70 2.17 0.5
Kris Bubic 1 4.0 0 1 16.7% 5.6% 4.50 4.72 -0.1

The beginning of Yu Darvish’s career with the Cubs didn’t get off to a great start with a season of just eight starts and an ERA of just under 5.00. In his first eight starts last year, it was more of the same. He threw just 36.2 innings with 33 walks allowed and it looked like it was going to be an absolute bust of a contract. Then, the control turned around and he walked just 23 in his next 142 innings with a 3.61 ERA. He’s walked just one in 10 innings this season, so it looks like the changes have stuck. His cutter is electric with a high spin rate and tons of swings and misses. His fastball comes in the mid-90s and can run even higher than that and it also has a high spin rate. His curve (yep, another high spin rate) has been great this year too in two starts. It really does seem that utilizing the cutter more has been a huge change for him that has turned his career back around. Two things stand out about Darvish from last year. One, lefties hit him much better than righties. And two, he pitched much better away from Wrigley. The bad news here is that the Royals rely on their right-handed bats for most of their offense, however much that might be. Oh, and this game is away from Wrigley. So that’s not ideal.

Kris Bubic gets his second big league start in this one. In his first, he showed some rookie jitters early with some rough command and control. After he gave up a home run to MVP candidate Adam Engel, he really settled in. After that, we saw some of the changeup we were so excited about with strikeouts of Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal and the command was generally much better. The White Sox have a good lineup, but I think the Cubs is probably a little more dangerous for a guy like Bubic, so this is a good test for him early in his career. But if he can get that changeup working like he did in his last few batters against the White Sox, we might see some of that potential flashed.

August 6, 6:07pm - Tyler Chatwood vs. Brad Keller

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Tyler Chatwood 2 12.2 2 0 40.4% 8.5% 0.71 2.15 0.7
Brad Keller (2019) 28 165.1 7 14 17.2% 9.9% 4.19 4.94 2.2

Like Darvish, Tyler Chatwood’s career with the Cubs got off to a pretty rocky start. In his first year with the team, he walked 95 batters in 103.2 innings. Things got better last year, and he had a pretty decent season mostly in relief. With some injuries, Chatwood has been a starter to start this season, and has allowed one run on six hits with 19 strikeouts and four walks in just 12.2 innings. The stuff has never really been a question for him, but the control and command has, and when he’s on with that, he’s on. In his career, he’s also been tougher on righties than lefties, so, again, that’s not great for the Royals. He’s also been subject to the third time through the order penalty in his career, so even if he is on, they likely won’t have to deal with him for too deep into the game, especially with roster cutdowns coming after this start, so maybe David Ross will want to utilize his expanded roster in this one. The Royals can hope, right?

It looks like Brad Keller will make his season debut in this one, making the Royals rotation finally whole. Keller was coming off a fantastic rookie year last season and while he wasn’t bad by any stretch, he took some steps back with command and control without taking steps forward with getting some swings and misses. Still, regardless of any of that, his ability to limit home runs is something that will keep him employed in the league as long as the baseball is flying like it’s 2019 all over again (but maybe even crazier). If he can take even slight steps forward with his strikeout rate and his walk rate, he could become more than a back of the rotation starter, so this is an important season for him to determine if that is in his future. He’ll now have 10 or 11 starts to prove that he can be a part of this rotation when the young arms all start to make it to the big leagues.

Prediction

The Royals are playing like garbage right now. Their defense is sloppy and they can’t hit. The pitching isn’t all bad, but it’s not good enough to overcome the rest. The Cubs are playing really well right now as well. Knowing that it’s difficult to sweep four games, I’m going to say that the Royals take one of the games, but I have to be honest and say I’m not confident they actually will.

Poll

How does this series end?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Royals Sweep
    (7 votes)
  • 29%
    Cubs Sweep
    (36 votes)
  • 17%
    Split
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    Royals Win Three of Four
    (1 vote)
  • 46%
    Cubs Win Three of Four
    (56 votes)
121 votes total Vote Now