Results tagged ‘ Home Series Preview ’
In his last 25 games, 2014 All-Star Freddie Freeman has hit .370/.434/.570. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty)
At the season’s outset, it appeared offense would be the Braves’ strength, as their lineup was littered with power bats, but they had numerous question marks in the rotation. As usual in baseball, it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected. The Braves pull into Wrigley Field tied with the Nationals for first place in the NL East chiefly on the backs of that suspect rotation, much of which was thrown together late in the offseason after the team lost two big arms to Tommy John surgery during Spring Training. But with some key players struggling, the offense has taken a step back from 2013, when it ranked fourth in the NL in runs per game. One veteran has already been displaced from his starting position.
(3.6 RA/G, 4th IN NL)
The Braves lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery before the season even began, but that hasn’t stopped the staff from being one of the best in the game. Aaron Harang has probably pitched above his head early in the year, but his performance has still been a revelation. Ervin Santana was another late-spring addition, and while he’s been inconsistent, he is still a reliable innings eater. The Cubs will see three young pitchers in this series in lefties Alex Wood and Mike Minor, as well as 2014 All-Star righty Julio Teheran. Friday’s starter, Wood, has shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation this year, but is back in a much more comfortable starting role, where he can use his full assortment of pitches and funky delivery to keep hitters off balance. The usually reliable lefty Minor has struggled since the end of last season and comes into Saturday’s start with a 2-5 record and 4.54 ERA. However, the biggest development this season has been Julio Teheran’s emergence as the staff’s ace. The 22-year-old currently sports an 8-6 record with a 2.57 ERA. The bullpen looks a bit different from previous years, but it’s still strong, with outstanding closer and NL saves leader Craig Kimbrel anchoring the back end.
(3.7 RS/G, 14TH IN NL)
Dan Uggla has never been a batting average guy, but that was always offset by his tremendous power. However, after the second baseman slugged just .362 in 2013 and suffered a continued power outage in 2014, the Braves finally called up youngster Tommy La Stella to take over the keystone in late May. La Stella doesn’t have the power Uggla displayed in his prime, but he has a great approach and can flat out hit. Unfortunately for Atlanta, it isn’t just Uggla struggling at the plate. Chris Johnson has failed to repeat his BABIP-fueled 2013 line of .321/.358/.457; the Upton brothers continue to strike out at an alarming rate; and former top prospect Jason Heyward hasn’t shown the power many expected of him when he first came up. The Braves are also without slugging catcher Evan Gattis for the foreseeable future. This offense was designed to be heavy on power bats, but it’s struggling to hit home runs and hasn’t yet figured out how to play small ball. So far this year, the Braves attack relies heavily on All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman. When he’s hot, the offense will score some runs. If you can hold him down, it struggles.
Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rondon (left to right) have all been big contributors this season for the Nationals. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Nearly everyone picked the Nationals to run away with the NL East in 2014, but it has been a tightly bunched division in the early going, with the Nats just a game up on Atlanta as Thursday’s play began. Washington’s offense has been solid, and their pitching is about as good as it gets in the National League. Unfortunately, one of the bigger stories for the team thus far has been new manager Matt Williams calling out Bryce Harper for his apparent lack of hustle on an early-season ground out. Harper, who is known for his all-out, but often reckless effort, took the criticism in stride. Shortly thereafter, he hurt his thumb stretching a double into a triple, and he has missed a large portion of the season. He is due to return soon, though he’ll still miss the Cubs series.
(2nd in NL, 3.5 RA/G)
The Nats have the makings of a dominating rotation, but the arms didn’t quite perform to expectations in the early going. Former No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg is getting plenty of strikeouts and isn’t walking many, but he’s been very unlucky, with a ridiculous .356 BABIP resulting in a 3.70 ERA. University of Illinois product and Friday’s starter Tanner Roark is having a solid season (7-4, 2.79 ERA), while Saturday’s Game 1 starter Gio Gonzalez hasn’t yet lived up to his career numbers. Offseason acquisition and Thursday’s starter Doug Fister has been the addition everyone expected after coming back from injury in early May. Since his return, he has posted a 6-2 record with a 2.65 ERA. The bullpen is led by closer Rafael Soriano, who has converted 18 of 20 saves this season. Blake Treinen will start Game 2 of the doubleheader Saturday night.
(8th IN NL, 4.0 RS/G)
Harper’s loss was costly, especially considering no one has really stepped up in his absence. Veterans Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth have been strong, while Denard Span is bouncing back nicely after a rough 2013 season. His return has allowed the Nats to keep the offense clicking, even after losing Ryan Zimmerman for several weeks to a thumb injury. Danny Espinosa has stepped into a full-time role at second base, and the hot-hitting Anthony Rendon has moved back to his college position at third. The now healthy Zimmerman has looked solid since his move to the outfield, but it will be interesting to see what the Nats do with him once Harper comes off the DL.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Reds were bitten by the injury bug early in 2014, with Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman missing significant time. Somehow the team has managed to tread water while awaiting their return and currently finds itself at .500. Cincinnati has one of the best pitchers and one of the best hitters in the game in Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto, respectively. They also have speedster Billy Hamilton, who has the potential to be a very exciting player if he can continue to get on base. Still, the Reds have their work cut out for them if they hope to catch the streaking Brewers and the always-excellent Cardinals in a tough NL Central division.
(7th in NL, 3.8 RA/G)*
The Reds staff has been led by an absolutely dominant Johnny Cueto, and now Cincy will have its co-ace Latos back, as he recently returned from the DL after dealing with minor offseason elbow surgery. Former reliever Alfredo Simon has stepped in admirably and is currently tied for the NL lead in wins, and Mike Leake has been solid. The biggest surprise so far may be the struggles of Homer Bailey, who received a huge contract prior to the season. Closer Chapman began the year on the shelf, but Jonathan Broxton was strong in his stead. Chapman’s return has helped solidify things as the relievers return to more appropriate roles.
(10TH IN NL, 3.9 RS/G)*
Joey Votto continues to be one of the toughest outs in baseball, having posted a .410 on-base percentage, and Devin Mesoraco has been a revelation when he’s stayed healthy and on the field. Though Jay Bruce has struggled with batting average, his ability to hit for power while taking walks has helped make him a valuable player. On the other side of the ledger, the middle infield has been an offensive black hole, with Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart both delivering sub-.700 OPSs. At the top of the order is Hamilton, who has game-changing speed, struggled to get on base early this season, but has upped his average to .273 and swiped 31 bases.
Outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco have made an impact for Pitssburgh. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
After ending 20 years of below-.500 futility and making a playoff appearance in 2013, it appeared the Pirates were a team on the rise. A poor April put the Bucs in a bit of a hole, one they’ve slowly tried to dig out of. This year, pitching has been subpar while the bats have only recently started to wake up. It’s too early to draw conclusions as there’s plenty of baseball still to be played, but the loss of A.J. Burnett from the rotation and some rough starts from key offensive contributors have led to serious struggles. Still, don’t count Pittsburgh out yet, as it does have some talented youngsters and an exciting roster.
(12TH IN NL, 4.3 RA/G)
The Pirates’ top two starters, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, started off relatively strong, but oblique and shoulder fatigue issues, respectively, currently leave both on the DL. Cole has a below-average strikeout rate, but the former top draft pick is just scratching the surface of his immense talent. Their absence puts the burden squarely on the shoulders of veteran and Friday’s starter Charlie Morton as well as young right-handers Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton. In 14 starts this season, Morton’s had a fine season, posting a 3.09 ERA in 87.1 innings. Saturday’s starter Worley has only pitched seven major league innings this year, but has a 1.20 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs, though Sunday’s starter Cumpton has struggled in 2014. The bullpen continues to be a strength, even with closer Jason Grilli experiencing some bumps.
(6TH IN NL, 4.1 RS/G)
Early on, defending NL MVP Andrew McCutchen has continued to look every bit the franchise-making superstar—but he was the only one providing any offense. Starling Marte regressed from his great 2013 season, and while Pedro Alvarez is again hitting for power, his low batting average and OBP drive down his value. Neil Walker was having a fine season until he had to undergo an appendectomy. There’s no timetable on his return. The Pirates have already made some significant moves to help kick-start the struggling bats, acquiring first baseman Ike Davis from the Mets and bringing up top prospect Gregory Polanco, who’s had success at the dish in a very small sample size. The hope is that Marte turns things around, Alvarez starts making more contact, and Polanco can make a big impact on the major league front.
Giancarlo Stanton is leading the NL with 17 homers and 53 RBI. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
After dropping 100 games last season, the upstart Marlins pull into Wrigley Field 32-28 and in a surprising tie for first place with the Braves in the NL East. The Fish have one of the most exciting young players in the game in behemoth Giancarlo Stanton. He’s a can’t-miss batting practice attraction who delivers unmatched power, and he’s putting up MVP-like numbers in the early going. But the Marlins aren’t just the Stanton show. The team has come out swinging in 2014, scoring more runs than any other offense this side of the Rockies. Pair that with a group of young pitchers with plenty of upside, and the Marlins aren’t far off from making a run at relevance. The good news for the Cubs is the Fish have proven to be a much better team at home than they are on the road.
(11TH IN NL, 4.2 RA/G)
The Marlins took a big hit early this season when they lost Cuban sensation Jose Fernandez for the year following Tommy John Surgery. His passion and performance made every one of his starts must-see baseball. They immediately moved to sign veteran Randy Wolf (1-1, 3.38 ERA), who the Cubs will face on Saturday. He also has a pair of teammates who aren’t too shabby. Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.24 ERA), who the Cubs will face Friday, is one of the hardest throwers in the game and is getting results to match the stuff. Sunday’s starter, Henderson Alvarez (3-3, 2.62 ERA) relies more on command than velocity, but his excellent ERA puts him right up there with any strikeout artist. The fifth starter and the bullpen, outside of closer Steve Cishek, are where the Marlins’ troubles lie. They’ll need more out of their pitching if they want to remain competitive all season long.
(2ND IN NL, 4.6 RS/G)
The Marlins began the season hitting the cover off the ball, especially at Marlins Park. Stanton is the leader on offense, and he’s proving to be one of the game’s best players when healthy. He comes into the series hitting .314/.407/.614 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and is leading the NL with 17 homers and 53 RBI. But he is hardly alone. The Marlins’ big free-agent addition, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has been solid early on, though his numbers have dropped in the last month. Veteran Casey McGehee has also looked good (.298/.355/.382), but it remains to be seen if he can keep it up for the entire season. Joining Stanton in the outfield are Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, both very young (23 and 22, respectively) and delivering with the bat. If the youth can continue to perform, the Marlins’ offense could turn out to be one of the biggest surprises in baseball.