Network Notebook: Nationals/Cubs Series Preview
ANOTHER POTENTIAL PLAYOFF PREVIEW WHEN WASHINGTON VISITS WRIGLEY THIS WEEKEND
Even though the Chicago Cubs have been playing much better ball since the All-Star Break than they were during their long World Championship hangover, a major problem still looms. The Cubs struggle vs. good teams! They just lost two of three games at home to the Arizona Diamondbacks, dropping them to 16-24 this season against opponents who are currently at .500 or better.
The Washington Nationals come to town for a weekend series with a gaudy 63-43 record, a smidge better than Arizona. This potential playoff preview between the projected #2 and #3 seeds is an important test for the Cubbies. If they lose another series to a good team, it will be difficult to take them seriously as an October threat.
Let's see what JIM HURLEY'S key indicator stats have to say about these teams and this weekend's likely pitching matchups.
Washington: +108 runs, while playing 51 home games and 55 road games
Chicago Cubs: +43 runs, while playing 52 home games and 55 road games
Virtually identical schedules in terms of the home/road split. Though Washington has had the easier schedule because they play in a much softer division. The difference right now between these teams isn't as great as that run differential is suggesting. Especially with Strasburg out and Scherzer suffering neck spasms! But, overall, Washington will likely enter the playoffs as the superior team if everyone's at full strength.
Washington: 5.5 runs-per-game, .339 on-base, .472 slugging
Chicago Cubs: 4.7 runs-per-game, .329 on-base, .433 slugging
And, this is the main reason why. Washington has the much better offense, particularly when it comes to big blows in slugging. That matters most in the postseason because any individual big blow has a larger percentage impact at a time when pitching rules the roost. You're about to see, as we move to "probable pitchers," that Washington is going to need those bats this weekend!
Roark: 4.93 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 7.9 K's per 9 innings
Hendricks: 3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7.5 K's per 9 innings
Roark has had trouble all season, though he does occasionally mix in good outings. That's a very poor WHIP for a rotation starter this deep into the season. Hendricks has done a better job of keeping guys off base. Neither can overpower opponents with strikeouts. If the weather is helping hitters, this could be a high scoring game similar to the shootout we saw Thursday with the D-backs and Cubs.
Lackey: 4.87 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 7.8 K's per 9 innings
As we post this, the Nationals haven't yet decided who will pitch the middle game of the series. Scherzer's neck is a concern, but probably not a longterm issue. Still, you don't want to take any dumb risks in early August when you've probably already clinched a playoff spot. Lackey could be in trouble vs. a good offense given his lack of strikeout force and that shaky ERA. Might be another high scoring one depending on who ultimately gets the call for the Nats.
Jackson: 2.84 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 5.7 K's per 9 innings
Lester: 3.96 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 9.3 K's per 9 innings
If you only look at the numbers, you'd think the Nats finally get a good pitcher on the mound in this series. But, Jackson's a known quantity from a long career. That awful K-Rate is much more likely to be predictive going forward than the ERA and WHIP. He's much more likely to be a 5.00 ERA/1.40 WHIP guy the rest of the way (possibly worse!). So, edge to Lester, who will be a high-priced market favorite come Sunday.
Huge break for the Cubs that they probably miss both Strasburg and Scherzer this weekend (one they probably won't catch in the playoffs). Though, Washington misses Arrieta and Quintana for the Cubs. JIM HURLEY will be watching this series closely to find any betting edges for clients. But, there are several other big series on tap. And, sometimes the best August plays come in off-the-radar matchups where one team is still trying and the other isn't.
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Back with you Monday to preview what could be a very exciting series featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks (which actually starts Tuesday night). Can the D-backs slow down one of the hottest teams this sport has ever seen! You know the stadium will be packed for this renewed rivalry. And, obviously, that could also be a potential playoff preview depending on who wins the likely play-in game matching Arizona and Colorado.
We're in the midst of an amazing stretch of baseball, just as the NFL exhibition slate is about to get busy. Be sure you link up with PROVEN WINNER and HANDICAPPING LEGEND JIM HURLEY to GET ALL THE MONEY!
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