Results tagged ‘ Matchups ’

Home Series No. 9 Preview: Cubs vs. Mets


Bartolo Colon has brought some veteran leadership to a young Mets rotation. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Mets pulled into June just a few games off the pace in a relatively weak NL East. While their impressive start was a surprise to many, the front office did add a pair of seasoned veterans in Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson to try and jump-start the team’s window of contention. Pair that with face of the franchise David Wright and some talented young pitchers in Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, Zach Wheeler and Matt Harvey (out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery), and New York has an interesting core to work with going forward. While it appears the Mets have performed better than their numbers might suggest, there are some signs their early-season success could be maintained if a few veterans start performing up to their career norms.

(8TH IN NL, 4.0 RA/G)

The Mets’ starting pitching, which pairs youth with ageless veteran Colon, has been a strength. Colon walks very few batters, and his strikeout rate is actually up this season, but he’s giving up more home runs than usual. If he can get that number back to normal levels, the 42-year-old could be part of a very strong rotation that includes solid young arms in Gee, Niese and Wheeler. Gee has recently been on the DL with a strained right lat, but former Red Sox bust Daisuke Matsuzaka has actually been solid in the rotation. If someone falters, stud prospect Noah Syndergaard is waiting in the wings. The bullpen, on the other hand, is a big question mark. Last year’s closer Bobby Parnell lasted only one inning in 2014 before tearing his UCL. The Mets are hoping a mix of veterans and untried youth can get them through the later innings of close games, with Jenrry Mejia serving as the team’s closer of late.

(6TH IN NL, 4.1 RS/G)

Through the season’s first two months, the Mets got almost nothing out of veteran leader Granderson, while Wright seems to have shaken off his slow start in the last few weeks. The duo’s original struggles at the plate made the Mets’ solid start on offense look all the more surprising. As a team, they’re 8th in the NL in OBP (which usually aligns very closely with runs scored) but last in slugging. So the question is, what will change going forward? Do the individual performances start to improve, or does the unsustainable run scoring catch up with them? It’s unlikely Granderson will struggle this much all season, so it’s possible the Mets will continue to score runs at their solid early-season rate.

Series 15 Preview: Cubs at Pirates


Russell Martin has played a big role in the Pirates’ early-season success. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Cubs head to Pittsburgh, where the Pirates have established themselves as one of the NL Central’s top three teams. Winners of eight of their last 10 games, the Bucs sit at 26-18—just two games back of the division-leading Cardinals. PNC Park generally plays as a pitcher-friendly stadium. With the Pirates’ deep pitching staff, runs could be at a premium in the next few days.

4.0 RS/G 11th in NL
At the plate, the Pirates have been somewhat of a stars-and-scrubs affair thus far. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen and left fielder Starling Marte form an outstanding one-two punch that will be in Pittsburgh for years to come. Both can hit, hit for power, steal bases and play the field. Marte does have nine walks to 45 strikeouts in 197 plate appearances, however, so he’ll be challenged to harness his free-swinging ways as pitchers adjust to him. Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez are a very good left-right tandem at first base—expect Jones to start against the Cubs’ three right-handers scheduled to pitch, while Sanchez will offer protection against lefty James Russell. Catcher Russell Martin is looking like a steal at two years and $17 million. The 30-year-old has a great reputation for calling a game, and he’s the team’s most productive hitter through 44 games. But the rest of the infield has struggled offensively. Second baseman Neil Walker, shortstop Clint Barmes and third baseman Pedro Alvarez are each hitting in the low .200s. Barmes offers great defense, but Walker and Alvarez don’t.

3.6 RA/G, 4th in NL

The Cubs will miss resurgent 36-year-old A.J. Burnett, as well as breakout left-hander Jeff Locke. But there has been little drop off between them and veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez, who toes the rubber Tuesday. Cubs fans have seen him for years in a Houston uniform. He brings a big, sweeping curve that will get lefties flailing and tie up righties. His control is much improved from his earlier days, though the increased use of his two-seam fastball has cost him some strikeouts. Francisco Liriano and Jeanmar Gomez follow, having stepped into the rotation due to injuries and attrition. Liriano is back to sitting in the 93-mph range and has been effective through two starts, despite his usual free passes. Lefties will have to watch for his four-seam fastball and slider combo, while righties will also see a two-seamer and change-up. Gomez was a minor offseason acquisition from the Indians, and he’s made great use of his heavy sinker in starts and relief so far. After getting a great deal of attention from GM Neal Huntington, the back end of the bullpen has been a revelation for the Pirates. Jason Grilli was bumped from setup duty to the ninth inning, and he boasts a 0.92 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. Justin Wilson, who has a big fastball from the left side and mixes in a nasty cutter that plays against both hands, pairs with new addition Mark Melancon as the squad’s late-inning setup men.

—Sean Ahmed

Series 6 preview: Cubs head north to Milwaukee


Carlos Gomez has been solid in the Brewers lineup this season. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty)

The Cubs will get another chance at right-hander Marco Estrada as they venture north to Milwaukee this weekend to take on the Brewers. The 29-year-old Estrada picked up the win and limited Cubs hitters to two runs on five hits in seven innings during the North Siders’ home opener earlier this month.

The three-pitch starter throws an 89 mph fastball 61 percent of the time and mixes in a change-up and a curveball. That repertoire has proved effective so far this season, at least in terms of strikeout totals—Estrada has fanned 21 batters in 18.0 innings. Last season marked his first year as a regular in the rotation, and he finished 5-7 in 23 starts, striking out 9.3 batters per nine.

Through the first three weeks of the season, the speedsters in the Brewers’ lineup have posed the biggest problems for opposing pitchers. Shortstop Jean Segura leads the team with a .367 average, while Carlos Gomez (.308/.321/.442) and Norichika Akoi (.289/.358/.437) have also proved to be tough outs early on. Gomez’s ascent has been especially surprising, considering he’s a career .248 hitter known more for his wheels and defensive ability. Then there’s 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun. Though his .275 average is well below his career mark of .313, he’s hit three homers and driven in 10 and remains one of the game’s top hitters.

That said, the Brewers’ offense still has Rickie Weeks in its order. The second baseman is hitting .193/.270/.298 and hardly resembles the player who made the All-Star team in 2011. And former Cub Aramis Ramirez is still on the 15-day DL with a knee sprain and should be back in the lineup in early May.

Of course, the offense isn’t the reason the Brew Crew are 6-8 and only a game up on the rebuilding Cubs. The pitching staff has given up 5.4 runs per game, the worst mark in the National League, and they have a staff ERA of 4.75, 14th in the NL. Much of that comes from poor starting pitching. Newcomer Kyle Lohse has been tough, but ace Yovanni Gallardo has a 5.24 ERA in four starts, while prospect Wily Peralta’s ERA is 6.19 over three starts. And Milwaukee already demoted starter Mike Fiers to Triple-A.

The good news for the Cubs is that they miss Lohse. The Brewers will send right-hander Hiram Burgos—making his ML debut—to the mound Saturday and Peralta on Sunday.


Friday, April 19—RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (1-0, 4.50)

Saturday, April 20—RHP Edwin Jackson (0-2, 6.06) vs. RHP Hiram Burgos (0-0, –)

Sunday, April 21—RHP Scott Feldman (0-2, 6.00) vs. RHP Wily Peralta (0-1, 6.19)

Series 4 Preview: Saturday’s Giants vs. Cubs matchup

at Dodger Stadium on April 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Giants starter Madison Bumgarner will throw Saturday at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Got your Vine Line Game Day Edition scorecards ready? We’ve got a dandy pitching matchup at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon. Here’s a quick guide to today’s two starters:

Repertoire (Avg. MPH)*: 4-seam (92), Slider (88), Change-up (86), Curve (85)
Age: 23
2012 Stats: 208 IP, 22.5 K%, 5.1 UBB%, 3.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

bumgarner_pitchmix2012Bumgarner’s repertoire is simple on its face—fastball, slider, curve and change—but it’s how he’s able to locate modify his pitches that makes him such a great left-hander. He adds and subtracts from his fastball and adds in some natural cutting action. The result is a continuum of velocities and movement, even though the vast majority of his pitches will fall in a slim high-80s to low-90s range.

Righties will have to deal with being pounded inside with cutters and sliders, and protecting against curves and change-ups that will drop on the low-outside corner from different directions. Bumgarner delivers from a low three-quarters angle that makes both locations tough to deal with. Against lefties, he throws his fastball over half of the time, attacking the outside corner as well as using it up and over the plate. His slider will sweep hard away from a lefty, and his slow, mid-70s curve gets batters way out in front. Watch out for some backwards pitching: While hitters are likely to see a first-pitch fastball, they’ll deal with more sliders when Bumgarner falls behind in the count and more fastballs when he’s ahead.

Bumgarner’s signature is his command, and it’s no doubt the product of clean, repeatable mechanics. He turns toward second base at max leg kick before unwinding his hips and arms, keeping his head perfectly still and getting great extension toward the plate. It gives him “effective” velocity more than pure velocity and is a big reason he’s had an above-average strikeout rate in his two full seasons in the big leagues.

Repertoire (Avg. MPH)*: 4-seam (96), Sinker (95), Cutter (92), Splitter (86), Slider (85)
Age: 28
2012 Stats: 174 IP, 24.9 K%, 7.5 UBB%, 3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

samardzija_pitchmix2012One thing’s clear through two starts: Samardzija is determined to surpass his breakout 2012 campaign. His 22 strikeouts through 13.2 innings gives him a 41 percent strikeout rate, and he’s kept opponents to a .125 batting average. Is it possible for Samardzija to be a breakout candidate again? Some certainly believe so.

There’s been at least one specific improvement in the very early going: his use of a back-door slider against lefties. That’s a pitch that starts off the plate before sweeping over the outside corner. In fact, southpaws have struck out four times on the slider versus six on the splitter, whereas the ratio was one to five last season. He’s also used it nearly a quarter of the time against right-handed hitters with two strikes. It’s possible that he just has better “feel” of that pitch so far, but we’ll be watching the development of that pitch to see if it helps Shark unlock another gear this season.

Both of Samardzija’s fastballs sit in the mid- to high-90s, and his two-seamer is made even more impressive by his ability to run a few extra inches of movement while matching the velocity of his four-seamer. Overall, he likes to move pitches away from batters—using more two-seamers and splitters that fade away from lefties, while employing the cutter and slider against righties. And Samardzija’s splitter is his No. 1 weapon when he gets ahead in the count. He’s gotten more whiffs on the pitch each year in the big leagues, up to a 46 percent swing-and-miss rate last season.

*PITCHf/x numbers from Brooks Baseball.

—Sean Ahmed

Cubs look to avoid the snake bite

After a few days off for the All-Star Break, the Diamondbacks come to town to kick start the second half of the season. Arizona sits at 42-43, but is only four games back of the NL West-leading Dodgers. Vine Line looked at the Kirk Gibson-managed side and broke down some of the key players to watch in the series.

Hitters to watch:

Paul Goldschmidt — While it might not be considered a snub, Goldschmidt was one of the better players not to participate in the All-Star festivities in Kansas City. His .302 average leads the team and is second best among NL first basemen, while his .368 on-base percentage is 13th best in the NL. He also plays solid defense at first. He has committed only three errors, and his .5 UZR is good for fifth in the NL.

Aaron Hill — Hill was another All-Star hopeful who found himself on the outside looking in. He was also the only NL nominee in the All-Star Final Vote not to make the team. But Hill is looking more like the 2009 version of himself, when he hit 36 home runs and drove in 108 for the Blue Jays. This year, he is hitting .300 (second among NL second basemen) with an .860 OPS (on-base plus slugging), highest of all NL second basemen by nearly 80 points.

Pitchers to watch:

Joe Saunders — The Cubs dodge the D-backs’ lone All-Star, Wade Miley, but Saunders has quietly rebounded into the viable starter the Angels hoped he’d be when they drafted him in the first round in ’02. Though he sits at 4-5, he’s put up a solid a 3.44 ERA, his lowest since 2008, when he finished at 3.41. He is not much of a strikeout pitcher, but his 5.9 K/9 is his highest mark since ’06. He’s slated to come off the DL and throw on Saturday, opposite Ryan Dempster.

Brad Ziegler — The Diamondbacks’ bullpen has the fifth best ERA in the NL, and setup man Ziegler is having the best season of Arizona’s bullpen arms. His 2.45 ERA is tops on the team, though he’s not much of a strikeout pitcher either (6.0 K/9). In 33 innings, he hasn’t surrendered a home run and carries a respectable 1.27 WHIP. His four wins out of the bullpen are also best in baseball among relievers.

Cactus Notes: Spring slate kicks off with the A’s

MESA, Ariz.–The A’s are in town to help the Cubs kick off their Cactus League season this afternoon at HoHoKam Park in Mesa. The Cubs will be throwing right-hander Rodrigo Lopez, a veteran of 10 major league seasons. The Cubs acquired Lopez from Atlanta on May 26 last year, and he went 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA in 26 games (16 starts).

The A’s will counter with right-hander Brandon McCarthy, one of their few rotation holdovers from 2011. McCarthy, who began his career with the White Sox, went 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts for Oakland last year.

The Cubs enter the season with 15 new players on the 40-man roster and a great deal of inexperience. Of the 39 players currently on the 40-man roster, 24 have three or fewer years of service time in the majors. The Cubs and A’s will meet four times this spring, including a day game tomorrow in Mesa.

Although today’s game will not be televised, it will be carried on Play-by-play man Len Kasper will join Mick Gillespie, radio broadcaster for Chicago’s Double-A Tennessee affiliate, for most of the 19 spring radio broadcasts on

Vine Line Game Day Preview: Road Trip to Fenway

Fenway Park

(Photo by Elsa/Getty)

Christina Kahrl, who writes for ESPN’s SweetSpot Blog and is a founding partner of Baseball Prospectus, contributed this preview of the Cubs’ visit to Boston for the Vine Line Game Day Edition program, available at Wrigley Field. Grab your official Wrigley Field scorecard for just $2 and catch Christina’s full look at the Cubs’ matchups every month.

If the American League had a preseason favorite for the pennant, it was the Red Sox. After adding former Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez and free-agent leftfielder Carl Crawford to an already star-laden lineup, nothing less would be seen as success.

That was before the Sox got off to a slow start, inducing instant panic in Red Sox Nation. Boston’s extraordinary roster depth is the product of extraordinary expense beyond just the $160 million-plus big-league payroll: The farm system has cranked out MVP candidates Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia in the lineup, power lefty Jon Lester in the rotation, and flame-throwing Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard in the ’pen. This series won’t just be historical—it’s as tough a matchup as you can draw, presenting the Cubs with a major challenge during their one away series in May.

May 2011 Vine Line Game Day EditionA season shy of its centennial as a big-league venue, Fenway Park is the East Coast’s answer to Wrigley Field and the site of the 1918 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cubs. Fourteen years before Babe Ruth’s infamous “Called Shot” that helped cost the Cubs the Series, he was helping the Red Sox beat the Cubs as a pitcher in ’18, getting the win in the first and fourth games. (more…)

Scorecard EXTRA preview: Cubs vs. Braves–Friday, Aug. 20

The Braves roll into town for a three-game set this weekend. The Cubs will thankfully miss ace Tim Hudson’s spot in Atlanta’s rotation, so let’s focus on their offense.

Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus broke down the effectiveness of the Braves lineup in the August Scorecard EXTRA (below).

Be sure to factor in the recently added Derrek Lee’s presence.  


Scorecard EXTRA preview: Cubs vs. Padres–Thursday, Aug. 19

Today’s Padres starter, Mat Latos, was featured by Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus in the Scout’s Corner (below) of August’s Scorecard EXTRA, available at every Cubs home game. 

Thumbnail image for padres latos.jpg

Scorecard EXTRA preview: Cubs vs. Padres–Wednesday, Aug. 18

Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus introduces the Padres pitching staff that had its way with the Cubs Tuesday night in August’s Scorecard EXTRA, available at every Cubs home game: 


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Scorecard cover--Marshall.jpg 

PITCHING: 3.44 Fair RA (first in MLB)

Because the Padres arguably have no single pitcher racking up big numbers, it’s easy to lose sight of their team-wide strengths. They’re the toughest team to hit against: They lead the NL in strikeout percentage, punching out 21 percent of opposing batters, and also profit from a league-best defense. Their 2.89 bullpen FRA reflects a seven-deep spread of effective ‘pen men, headlined by closer Heath Bell. Setup man Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams provide a reminder of how top relievers can be near-everyday impact players in their own right.