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Chicago Cubs Series Preview: Who are these guys?

The North side bunch is sort of unrecognizable, but there were certainly no half measures for them at the deadline.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Miami Marlins Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs were a lot more recognizable a month ago. They had Kris Bryant and Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo and Craig Kimbrel. They had Joc Pederson too for most of the season. They even had Jake Arrieta until a few days ago (though he was part of the problem). They had a chance to be sort of good. But they weren’t. Instead they were somewhere between not good and mediocre and that’s not a place you want to be as an organization, so they pretty much ripped the bandaid off and moved anyone who wasn’t under contract for next season. They kept guys like Kyle Hendricks and Willson Contreras (though he’s now hurt) and Ian Happ and brought back some solid prospects that should be a help to them moving forward. But what they have left is an ugly collection that has led them to a 4-15 record since the deadline.

Offensively, they went from having very real firepower to having Frank Schwindel regularly hitting second for them. That’s not a knock on Schwindel, who I always liked in the Royals organization. He’s been fantastic for the Cubs actually. But when a 29-year old who was never really much of a prospect is at the top of your order, it’s not great. I write about the Royals, so maybe something about glass houses and stones applies here. But the lineup is rough. They’ve scored more than five just four times since the deadline. As bad as the offense has been, the pitching has been worse on days Hendricks doesn’t go (and sometimes on days he does). They’ve allowed double digit runs five times since the deadline. Opponents have scored more than seven runs per game against them. They’re doing it by not striking out many hitters, walking too many and giving up tons of home runs. So yeah, that checks out. The point here is that the August Cubs aren’t just bad. They’re catastrophically bad, though they have won two in a row, so there’s that.

Royals vs. Cubs Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Cubs
Category Royals Cubs
Winning % .433 .439
Team wRC+ 87 90
Team xFIP 4.52 4.35
Run Differential -109 -88
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 2.6 Willson Contreras, 1.9

Cubs Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Rafael Ortega CF 181 .329 .389 .506 8.3% 22.7% 141 1.4
Frank Schwindel 1B 83 .329 .361 .633 4.8% 20.5% 163 0.7
Ian Happ LF 378 .186 .290 .348 11.9% 30.4% 76 -0.3
Patrick Wisdom 3B 242 .253 .315 .529 7.9% 39.3% 123 1.5
Jason Heyward RF 296 .200 .270 .322 8.1% 20.3% 63 0.1
David Bote 2B 251 .200 .272 .333 8.0% 21.1% 65 -0.4
Robinson Chirinos C 64 .283 .406 .585 12.5% 31.3% 164 0.6
Andrew Romine SS 44 .214 .250 .310 4.5% 34.1% 51 -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
Austin Romine C 19 .158 .158 .211 0.0% 42.1% -5 -0.2
Sergio Alcantara INF 144 .194 .287 .347 10.4% 25.0% 73 0.1
Matt Duffy INF 182 .272 .346 .321 8.2% 19.2% 88 0.3
Michael Hermosillo OF 5 .250 .400 1.000 0.0% 20.0% 246 0.1

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 4 3.2 0 0 20.0% 6.7% 0.00 5.60 0.1
Cody Heuer 48 48.2 4 2 21.8% 6.8% 4.44 4.07 0.5
Manuel Rodriguez 9 8.0 1 2 27.8% 8,3% 3.38 3.29 -0.1

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday - Brad Keller vs Zach Davies, 1:20pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 24 123.1 7 12 19.2% 10.4% 5.62 4.57 1.0
Zach Davies 25 120.2 6 9 16.9% 11.5% 5.00 5.06 0.4

The Cubs got Zach Davies back in the deal with the Padres that sent them Yu Darvish (and Victor Caratini) this winter, partially because they needed another arm to fill out the rotation when they sent one of theirs away and partially because Davies had been really solid for the Padres in 2020 and the Brewers before that. He did unlock some strikeouts in San Diego that he hadn’t had before, but he generally had been a guy a team could count on every fifth day. He’s certainly had his moments with the Cubs with five scoreless starts, but he’s also given up five or more five times. In all, it’s been a bad season for him, though he is coming off a very solid start against Miami. Davies is a soft-tosser. He averages just under 88 with his sinker and has a changeup, curve and cutter to complement it. The changeup is actually pretty good with a 35 percent whiff rate. But when it hangs, it’s trouble. Really he hasn’t been beaten around by any one pitch. It’s just sort of a combination of bad things happening with none of his pitches actually being dominant. He’s been a bit better against lefties, a bit worse at home and really bad in August.

The results weren’t really there for Brad Keller against the Cardinals on Saturday, but I thought he looked really sharp. He got a ton of called strikes and swinging strikes, which is pretty rare for him and if not for some errors behind him, the game might have been a bit different (though I doubt it given how bad the offense was that series). It was nice to see a bounceback from him because he struggled in his previous two starts, especially when he had to leave the start against the Blue Jays early with back issues. The control was there after the first in his last start and if he can flash that slider against the Cubs, they’re going to have a lot of trouble against him.

Saturday - Kris Bubic vs. Keegan Thompson, 1:20pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 21 86.2 3 6 19.2% 11.5% 5.09 4.93 -0.6
Keegan Thompson 27 40.2 3 2 24.7% 12.6% 2.21 4.37 -0.3

The Cubs picked Keegan Thompson with their third round pick in 2017 and he made his big league debut this year on May 2. He’s pitched almost exclusively as a reliever this season with just one start in his 27 outings, but he’s generally been very good with just a couple recent hiccups bringing his numbers down a bit. He throws a four-seam fastball that has averaged 94-95 in short relief, a cutter, a curve and a Brady Singer changeup (okay, that’s probably not fair, but he only throws about 2 percent of the time). He’s gotten beat on his cutter with damage, but when it’s good, it’s been really good. His curve has probably been his best and most consistent pitch, though. Righties have had a lot of trouble with him, but lefties have fared much better with a .770 OPS. One area that makes me wonder how long his strong numbers can last, though, is the fact that he’s allowed a .260/.367/.532 line with nobody on and a .143/.247/.200 line with runners on. One of those things is likely to regress to the other, and if I was a betting man, I’d put it on the line with runners on rising rather than the other way around.

Kris Bubic is coming off what is easily the worst start of his young career. He gave up seven runs to the Cardinals in just 1.1 innings and put that game out of reach before it even started. He just really had nothing going for him and it showed. A veteran might be able to figure enough out to give up five runs in 3.2 or something like that, but Bubic hasn’t learned that yet and it showed with him getting his brains beat in. The story is the same for Bubic that it’s always been and it’s if he can get his changeup working, he’ll be tough to beat. If he can’t, he’ll either have to figure something else out or he’s in trouble. He did pitch really well against the Cubs last year in his second big league start, giving up two runs on four hits in six innings with six strikeouts.

Sunday - Carlos Hernandez vs. Alec Mills, 1:20pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Carlos Hernandez 18 52.0 3 1 23.6% 11.4% 4.33 4.53 0.3
Alec Mills 24 77.1 5 5 16.9% 6.8% 4.19 4.23 0.9

The Royals drafted Alec Mills in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft and I remember getting pretty excited about him around 2016 when they were giving starts to Dillon Gee. As a guy with good control who could get enough strikeouts to find success, I thought he could be a really nice piece toward the back of a future Royals rotation. But they traded him to the Cubs for Donnie Dewees (who has still taken the best minor league spring training batting practice I’ve ever seen, for whatever that’s worth) that next spring and he’s been a bit up and down with the Cubs, but has contributed. Last season he even threw a no-hitter! This year, he’s been between the bullpen and the rotation, but now he’s back starting and he’s basically the guy I thought he’d be. He’s a little too hittable to be more than a four, but he doesn’t walk too many guys and while he doesn’t strike out enough, he gets just enough to be effective enough. His sinker and his four-seamer break 90 sometimes, but not that often. His changeup gets whiffs and he hasn’t allowed an extra base hit on his slider this season, so those are the pitches to watch for. He faced the Royals last season and went seven shutout innings with just three hits allowed.

Carlos Hernandez didn’t perform as well as Daniel Lynch against the Astros, but I was especially encouraged him by not walking anyone in that game. He didn’t have his best stuff, which kind of went away from my theory that all he had to do was control the ball to have big success, but allowing four runs in six innings to that offense is something worth bragging about for a guy with as little experience as he has. He’s just continued to show that he can make it in the big leagues and his pitch efficiency was something that impressed me a lot. He only struck out one batter, which is partially because of the Astros and partially because I just don’t think he had a ton, but this Cubs lineup is one where he can probably do some damage if he has any of his off-speed or breaking pitches working.


The Royals are really bad on the road. The Cubs are really bad. Three day games and the Cubs send probably their second best pitcher in Mills to the mound, so I’m going to say the Royals take two of three, but you honestly never know with them. They could come to play or they could come off a series with a really good team and get pummeled by a really bad team. I’m choosing to hope for the good end of that with my two of three prediction.


It’s quite a battle in Wrigley. How does it end?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Royals sweep.
    (14 votes)
  • 54%
    Royals win two of three.
    (55 votes)
  • 22%
    Cubs win two of three.
    (23 votes)
  • 8%
    Cubs sweep.
    (9 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now