SB Nation Blog
The Opponent, in one sentence
Up. The Cubs’ overall record isn’t as impressive as their roster, but they’ve been playing well of late. Winners of six of their last eight, Chicago has won each of their last three series. They haven’t been blowing many teams out, but that will come with time. Their lineup is mostly clicking, their rotation is keeping them in games and their bullpen is avoiding meltdowns. They are trending up, and they will probably stay around this level for the rest of the season.
4/28: Drew Pomeranz vs. Jake Arrieta, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network)
Pomeranz’ last start was somewhat overshadowed by a certain slide by a certain Orioles infielder, but he was mostly fine during that outing. He allowed just two runs against Baltimore, although he was once again inefficient with his pitches. The southpaw threw 102 pitches over just 5 1⁄3 innings and has only made it through six full innings in one of his three outings. He’ll have a major test against this loaded Cubs lineup.
Arrieta is one of the better stories on the Cubs, going from a failed prospect with the Orioles to one of the best starters in baseball after going to Chicago. The righty is an imposing presence on the mound and after a rough second half last year he’s come back strong in 2017. He’s striking out over ten batters per nine innings through his first four starts while walking fewer than two. The good news for Boston is he’s had some home run problems in his last three starts, but we know how the Red Sox have done in that area.
4/29: Steven Wright vs. John Lackey, 4:05 PM ET (FS1)
To say Wright has been a disappointment to start this 2017 season would be a fair statement, I think. He had that horrible implosion against the Rays in his second start, and while he only allowed four runs in his last outing he also only lasted 3 2⁄3 innings. The Red Sox could really use some more stability in the back of their rotation, but Wright will need his knuckleball to be working at its full capacity if he’s going to bounce back against Chicago.
We are all familiar with Lackey, or at least the vast majority of us are. He, of course, is a former Red Sox with a complicated history with the team. At first, he was a horrific free agent signing. Then, he turned into a World Series hero. Finally, he was the leaving piece in one of the worst trades in recent Red Sox memory. Since then, he’s landed with the Cubs and was a very solid piece for their World Series team last year. He’s had a rough start to this season as he’s experienced a backslide in command. This will be Boston’s best chance to put a big run total on the board in this series.
4/30: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Kyle Hendricks, 8:00 PM ET, (ESPN)
Rodriguez has been a very weird pitcher this year, and really over the course of his young career. There is obviously still plenty of time for the lefty, but we are still waiting for him to take the next step. Right now, he appears to be on the cusp but he needs to hone his control. His last start was a great example of this, as he tossed six shutout innings allowing only one hit, but he walked five Orioles along the way. We shouldn’t judge him based on this outing against the Cubs, but it will be an interesting test under the lights on national TV for Sunday Night Baseball against the best lineup in the league.
Hendricks, like Arrieta, is an incredible success story for the Cubs. He came out of nowhere to be a Cy Young contender in 2016, and he’s drawn (unfair) comparisons to Greg Maddux for his absurd command. He’s not one of those guys that will blow you away with any particular pitch, but instead just places each of his offerings with ease and can frustrate the hell out of any offense in baseball. That command hasn’t really been present this year, but he did throw six shutout innings his last time out so he could be ready to get on a roll.
Okay, so this section is going to be a monster. Go use the bathroom now if you have to.
Ready? Alright, let’s get started.
I already discussed Lackey above, so we can mostly skip him.
Jon Lester won’t be starting for the Cubs this series, but expect to hear plenty about the former Red Sox star throughout the weekend. Boston, of course, famously mishandled his contract situation throughout the 2014 season and the offseason that followed. A playoff hero who had the kind of toughness that Red Sox fans crave, he’ll always be The One Who Got Away.
Anthony Rizzo is one of the faces of the Cubs franchise and is one of the cornerstones of their much-feared core. Currently in his age-27 season, the former Red Sox prospect has turned himself into one of the best first basemen in the league and one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball. The former sixth round pick never played for Boston’s big-league club, as he was traded to the Padres as a minor-leaguer in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. Expect to hear plenty about that trade in the coming days, but don’t let anyone tell you Gonzalez was bad as a member of the Red Sox. Having Rizzo would obviously be preferable, but Gonzalez was very good in his short time here.
Koji Uehara is another one you can file under The One Who Got Away, as the team opted to not even attempt to bring the reliever back for the 2017 season. He instead landed a one-year deal with the Cubs and has been the same Koji as always. He’s walking more guys than usual, but the results are the same as they’ve ever been. He’d certainly look good in Boston’s bullpen right now.
The Cubs are run by Theo Epstein, who of course ran the Red Sox for the better part of last decade. He’s one of the best baseball minds in recent history and probably all of history. There will be more on Epstein later on this very website.
Leading off for the Cubs nowadays is Kyle Schwarber, who was Sam Travis’ teammate at Indiana if you’re looking for a Red Sox connection. He’s also one of the better young hitters in the game and after missing most of last season came back for the World Series without having missed a beat. The outfielder/catcher is susceptible to the strikeout and hasn’t shown huge power yet this year, but he’s a talented hitter who can get on base even when he’s not hitting to his full potential.
Kris Bryant is the reigning National League MVP and was the favorite to win again heading into this season. The third baseman is just a pure hitter who can do it all at the plate. Like Schwarber, the power hasn’t totally come yet but it will and the Red Sox better hope it waits until after this weekend.
We all remember Ben Zobrist from his Rays days, and he’s brought his versatility to the Cubs for 2017. He hasn’t brought his bat yet, though. Bitten by the BABIP bug thus far, he’s been below-average at the plate to this point in the year.
Addison Russell was one of Epstein’s biggest coups with the Cubs, and he’s turned into a bright star for the Cubs at shortstop.
Jason Heyward was one of the few busts for this Cubs regime, but he looks like he’s bouncing back this year. Always a great defensive player, the outfielder is starting to hit more like his old self in 2017.
Willson Contreras’ debut season got lost in the madness that was Gary Sanchez’ rookie year, but the Cubs young catcher has a bright future at the position.
Javier Baez jumped onto the national spotlight with his postseason performance last year and his performance for Puerto Rico in this spring’s World Baseball Classic. When he’s playing well he’s among the most exciting players in the league, but there is still plenty of inconsistency in his game.
So, we know the Cubs have a talented rotation and we just looked at their very deep lineup. Unfortunately, things don’t get any more encouraging for their opponents in terms of their bullpen. The unit is led by Wade Davis, who is not far removed from being the best reliever in baseball after suffering from injury issues last year. He looks mostly like his old self so far in 2017.
Carl Edwards is a former starting pitching prospect who broke out in Chicago’s bullpen late last year and served a key role in the postseason. He’s now their primary set-up man and looks just as electric with his ability to strike out opponents and induce ground balls at a high rate.
Hector Rondon is one of the more underrated relievers in baseball who served as the Cubs closer until they traded for Aroldis Chapman last summer and then Davis this winter. He’s more than capable in that role, and despite some control issues this year is still someone you don’t want to see in a close game.
The one weakness for the Cubs bullpen is from the left side, as their two lefties are probably the two worst arms in their bullpen. Neither Brian Duensing nor Mike Montgomery will strike too much fear in Boston’s lineup.
None. They are totally healthy because of course they are.
We are in for a nice weekend at Fenway after this past series with the Yankees was marred by poor weather conditions. Friday night’s contest will be played in the low-70’s and high-60’s with mostly clear skies. Saturday will remain clear and temperatures could reach 80 for the afternoon game.
Things get a little sketchier on Sunday. Temperatures will cool down to the 50’s, and there is a possibility of showers in the evening. I don’t think they will jeopardize the game, but it may make things uncomfortable for players and fans alike.