Results tagged ‘ series preview ’

Series 16 Preview: Cubs at Reds

Cueto

The Cubs will see Reds ace Johnny Cueto on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

The Cubs go from pitcher’s environment to hitter’s paradise as they head to Cincinnati for a three-game set. GM Walt Jocketty finally addressed an area this offseason that has plagued the Reds for years: the leadoff spot. And, boy, did he ever. Center fielder Shin-Soo Choo has put up a monstrous .300/.449/.535 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line with nine home runs in 45 games. That’s a far cry from the sub-.300 on-base percentage days of Corey Patterson, Willy Taveras and Drew Stubbs—even if Choo is better suited to a corner outfield spot. He is exactly the type of player the Reds need as they look to capture their third division title in four years.

HITTING 4.8 RS/G, 2nd in NL

It’s true that only Choo and other-worldly first baseman Joey Votto get on base with any consistency, but it’s been at such a great rate (roughly 47 percent of plate appearances combined) it’s allowed the team’s power to have maximum effect. Votto, of course, supplies plenty of pop, but so do second baseman Brandon Phillips, third baseman Todd Frazier and right fielder Jay Bruce—though impressively, it’s Choo who leads the team in home runs. On the defensive end, young shortstop Zack Cozart pairs up with Phillips to form one of the game’s best double-play tandems. And Votto has worked hard to become a good fielder at first. In the end, this is a lineup that does it all besides steal bases. It will be vital for Cubs pitchers to limit baserunners in order to mitigate any damage from home runs in Great American Ball Park.

PITCHING 3.6 RA/G, 5th in NL

The lineup gets the plaudits, but the pitching at least deserves a, “You’re not looking so bad yourself.” Every starting pitcher has an ERA below 3.50, from veteran Bronson Arroyo—who throws tonight—to the other four arms (all ages 27 and below). Some of the across-the-board improvements in the last few years could be credited to the defense, but there’s more to it than that. The Cubs will also see ace Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey this weekend. Owner of a corkscrew windup and one of the game’s most deceptive change-ups, Cueto has continually refined his command to become a truly outstanding starting pitcher. The improved control has paid off in reduced walks and home runs, though he didn’t look his finest in last week’s return from oblique and back issues. Interestingly, he’s even spoken about reducing the twist in his motion if it would prevent future injuries. Once seen as a disappointment after being heralded as a top prospect, Bailey is another member of the pitching staff who has seen a downward trend in his walks—and he not only earned a no-hitter last year but also posted a career-best ERA. Flame-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman is the closer, but rookie J.J. Hoover has also picked up a save or two.

—Sean Ahmed

Series 14 Preview: Cubs vs. Mets

Harvey

Mets ace Matt Harvey will throw against the Cubs Friday afternoon. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The 2013 season is shaping up to be a tough one for the 15-23 Mets. Though they re-signed star third baseman David Wright to a long-term deal, the organization reduced payroll for the second straight season, shipped defending NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto and lost their highest paid player, Johan Santana, for the season after he re-injured his shoulder in Spring Training. Not to mention they play in a stacked NL East that features two of baseball’s best teams in Atlanta and Washington. Despite a hot start, the team has sputtered of late. While the offense has been keeping them in ballgames, every pitcher not named Matt Harvey—the organization’s 24-year-old ace—or Bobby Parnell has struggled.

4.3 RS/G 5th in NL
Even with the nine-figure extension the organization gave their franchise third baseman, the Mets likely didn’t expect the kind of offensive production they have gotten early on. While the 30-year-old Wright is the centerpiece of the lineup—batting third and looking like his old self in the cozier Citi Field—he’s received a lot of help from different spots in the order. Catcher John Buck, an add-in on the Dickey deal, had a surprising power surge in April, launching 10 homers and driving in 31 (both third in the NL). And second baseman Daniel Murphy looks like he’ll continue his two-plus-year run of success. Not one to attempt many stolen bases anyway, manager Terry Collins hasn’t let the increase in offensive output alter his conservative basepath philosophy. But the team has done a better job of being selective at the plate thus far, increasing the number of pitches they see per game.

5.0 RA/G 15th in NL
After the Mets traded away knuckleballer Dickey for a haul of prospects, many were wondering if the New York roster had an arm that could step in and fill the void. Enter Harvey (Friday’s starter), the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft. The right-hander took the baseball world by storm in 10 starts last season, posting a 2.73 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. This season, Harvey, who has four pitches and averages almost 95 mph on his heater, looks poised to become a legitimate top-line starter. Outside of him however, the squad is short on reliable arms. The bullpen has gotten quality innings from set-up man Brandon Lyon, and flamethrower Parnell has done a solid job in the closer role. But despite the abundance of early-season offense, the Mets will need more out of their pitching corps if they hope to hang with the beasts of the East.

Series 13 Preview: Cubs vs. Rockies

Tulo

Troy Tulowitzki is the key component in the Rockies’ lineup. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Not much was expected of the Rockies after a woeful 2012 campaign that saw them compile the third-worst record in baseball and finish 30 games back of the World Series champion Giants. But the 2013 squad, under new manager Walt Weiss, took advantage of a soft early-season schedule and got off to a fast start. If healthy, the offense should continue to carry the load—they do play in Colorado, after all—behind stars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. They added some bullpen depth by picking up right-hander Wilton Lopez, who has an ERA of 4.00 in 18 innings this year, but the rotation is still a big question mark. Over the years, the Rockies have tried everything—sinkerballers, fireballers, humidors, even a four-man rotation—to manage the Rocky Mountain high. It’s unlikely pitchers like former South Sider Jon Garland and retread Jeff Francis are going to be able to tame the beast.

4.8 RS/G 1st in NL
As always, Colorado should feature a high-powered attack, buoyed by the mile-high altitude at Coors Field. All-Star and Gold Glove shortstop Tulowitzki is back to lead the Rockies on offense and defense after left groin surgery limited him to just 47 games in 2012. If Colorado falters this year, 27-year-old outfielder Carlos Gonzalez should again be in high demand on the trade market. He’s a two-time Gold Glove winner who can run and hit for average and power. Dexter Fowler and Wilin Rosario both provide quality at-bats as well, but there’s not much behind that group. And little can be expected of Mr. Rockie, Todd Helton, this late in his career. It will be interesting to see how Weiss, a scrappy, 14-year major league veteran, will deploy his offense in his first year in the captain’s chair.

4.1 RA/G 8th in NL
It’s safe to say GM Dan O’Dowd’s Project 5,183—in which the Rockies used a four-man rotation and limited all starters to 75 pitches no matter how the game was going—is firmly in the rearview mirror. Unfortunately for Colorado fans, the Rockies did little to bolster their major league-worst 5.22 ERA from last season. Lopez should help in the bullpen, and Rafael Betancourt isn’t a liability at closer, but the lion’s share of the Rockies’ 98 losses in 2012 can be placed squarely on the starting rotation. The team re-signed soft-tosser Francis, the ninth overall pick in the 2002 draft, but he has managed only a 6.90 ERA this year. They also picked up major league veteran Garland, who sat out the last season and a half following shoulder surgery. Both should be able to keep the ball on the ground, but they don’t exactly inspire fear in opposing offenses. Plus, we’ve seen this script before, when the Rockies tried sinkerballers like Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton to mitigate the Coors Field effect.

Series 12 Preview: Cubs at Nationals

Harper

Cubs pitchers will have to throw with caution when facing Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The reigning NL East champions haven’t gotten unleashed quite yet, but there’s little doubt their combination of pitching and hitting, veterans and youth will carry them deep into this season. The problem so far has been the offense, which ranks toward the bottom of the league in run production, mixed with a high strikeout totals and a lack of baserunners. But there’s talent oozing through the organization after about a decade of effective drafting. GM Mike Rizzo has supplemented the core of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg with some great trades for Gio Gonzalez, Denard Span and late-inning bullpen arms. No matter the Nationals’ offensive situation, the Cubs will have to bring their cleanest A-game to the nation’s capital to deal with the all-around threat.

3.6 runs scored/game, 14th in the NL
Other-worldly talent Harper has slugged 10 homers in 33 games and has already shown he’ll be able to make adjustments at the big league level. But beyond his 1.013 OPS (on-base plus slugging), no other Nationals position player is clearing .800 right now. The problems with their top hitters haven’t been uniform either. Some haven’t been able to hit for average or power (Adam LaRoche, Zimmerman) while others bring the stick but won’t take a walk (Desmond, Jayson Werth). All four have the potential to do damage in the middle of the order. Center fielder Span gives the team a second speedster alongside Desmond, and Span’s able to play the field and take a walk. Second baseman Danny Espinosa is a black hole at the plate, but he’s a pretty terrific middle infielder. In the end, the lineup will only be able to get away with its current low-strikeout, high-walk mix once it starts hitting the ball with more authority.

3.8 runs allowed/game, 4th in the NL
Strasburg gets the headlines, but the entire Nats rotation is solid. Despite a 1-4 record, the power right-hander has fanned 44 batters in 44.1 innings and owns a 3.45 ERA. At least the Cubs will miss Zimmermann, who has established himself as one of the game’s most effective young pitchers. He only strikes out six batters per nine innings, but his control is outstanding. Left-handers Gonzalez—a Cy Young finalist last year and owner of a devastating low-3/4 curve—and Ross Detwiler round out the trio of young starters the Cubs will see this series. The bullpen is deep—that much is certain. Whether it’s a collection of good relievers or a mix of good and great is up for debate. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Henry Rodriguez all have closed for the Nationals in the past. Soriano’s the one closing out games now, relying heavily on a low-90s fastball that has seen its velocity decline precipitously over the past couple of years. He pairs it with a slider that’s currently only being used when he’s ahead in the count. Meanwhile, Clippard brings an excellent right-handed change-up, Storen is a promising youngster with great stuff, and Rodriguez brings velocity but without any idea of where it’s going.

—Sean Ahmed

Series 11 Preview: Cubs vs. Cardinals

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter has been solid since splitting duties between his regular third base and the keystone. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Cardinals certainly had their share of early-season setbacks, but that only made it clearer the broad collection of talent GM John Mozeliak has assembled can carry the team through just about anything. Having to scratch veteran ace Chris Carpenter for the season made it easy to make room in the rotation for potential Rookie of the Year candidate Shelby Miller, and losing shortstop Rafael Furcal opened up an opportunity for last year’s stretch-drive hero, Pete Kozma. The team is so strong and deep that outfielder Oscar Taveras, arguably the best hitting prospect in baseball, may spend the season in the minors waiting for an opportunity. And most pundits believe the Cards have the best farm system in baseball. In the after-Pujols era, this team isn’t just ready, it’s fully loaded to contend for years to come.

4.8 runs scored/game, 4th in the NL
The Cardinals have shifted a few players around to maximize the team’s offensive potential. They asked third baseman Matt Carpenter to split time between the hot corner and second to get his lefty power stroke into the lineup while also making room for first baseman Matt Adams, who could be off the DL by the time the Cards head to Wrigley Field. Carpenter, four-corners asset Allen Craig and utilityman Daniel Descalso give manager Mike Matheny more than enough moving parts to rotate around stars Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. This hitting talent has also made it much easier for the team to endure a slow start from third baseman David Freese. If there’s one weakness in the St. Louis attack, it’s that the loss of Furcal has almost eliminated the running game. As a result, the Cards have become very much a station-to-station, big-inning offense.

3.5 runs allowed/game, 2nd in the NL
Perhaps no rotation in the league has been as strong as the Cardinals’ quintet in the early going. Adam Wainwright put up a 2.03 ERA in six April starts, striking out 43 and walking just three on his way to a 4-2 record. Lefty Jaime Garcia would front many big league rotations, and Miller’s mid-90s, moving fastball made him the top pitching prospect in the league coming into the year. Add in Jake Westbrook’s league-leading 1.07 ERA and Lance Lynn’s power-curve assortment, and there’s no such thing as a day off for opposing lineups. The problem is the ’pen, where Mitchell Boggs struggled to fill in for injured closer Jason Motte and was recently demoted. If there’s another source of worry, it might be the team’s interior defense. Experimenting with Carpenter at the keystone is much like the risk the Cards ran when they converted outfielder Scott Schumaker to second base. The move has worked out so far, as Carpenter’s defensive stats indicate there’s not much of a dropoff, but it remains to be seen how well it will work in the long run.

—Christina Kahrl

Series 10 Preview: Cubs vs. Reds

Cingrani

Left-handed rookie Tony Cingrani has been a star in the Reds’ rotation. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Most expect the Reds to challenge the Cardinals for supremacy in the NL Central this season, but there are concerns about whether Cincinnati has enough depth to carry them through the inevitable injuries every team endures. Despite a remarkably healthy 2012—each member of Cincy’s front five made 30 or more starts—the injury issue came to the fore early in 2013. Cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick’s dislocated shoulder will keep him out until after the All-Star break, and ace Johnny Cueto went down on April 15 with a strained lat. As Cubs fans know from waiting out Matt Garza, lat injuries can take a while to heal. The bullpen has also been hit hard, as key set-up men Sean Marshall and Nick Masset have both spent time on the DL (Masset was transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day on April 21). If this injury trend continues, it remains to be seen whether the Reds can sustain another playoff run in 2013. The Reds head into Wrigley one game over .500 (15-14), but just 2.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals.

4.4 Runs Scored/Game, 6th in the NL

Power has long been this lineup’s calling card, but the Reds’ team slugging was around league average in the first month. Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart are both off to slow starts, while Chris Heisey hasn’t performed well in place of Ludwick. Former MVP Joey Votto was initially on pace to draw more than 200 walks, but some scouts fret he could be getting too selective for his own good. On the positive side, Brandon Phillips got off to a hot start, and Todd Frazier’s power numbers indicate he’s recovered from last season’s September swoon. The injury to Ludwick, combined with questions about Shin-Soo Choo’s ability to play center field regularly—despite his impressive offensive output—have fed speculation the Reds might bring up speedster Billy Hamilton. After stealing 155 bases in the minors in 2012, Hamilton is expected to be the biggest stolen-base threat in baseball since Vince Coleman.

3.6 Runs Against/Game, 3rd in the NL

The major controversy this spring was whether Cincinnati would really move the Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman, and his triple-digit velocity into the rotation. After considerable debate, they decided to leave him at closer, which gives them a distinct in-game advantage compared to the other relief corps in the division. But that decision could also cost them in the long haul, especially with Cueto out for an indefinite amount of time. The good news is the other rotation regulars behind Cueto have all been strong. Sunday’s starter Mat Latos and Homer Bailey look like All-Stars early on while rookie and Saturday’s starter Tony Cingrani has picked up where Cueto left off. Mike Leake (Friday’s probable pitcher) continues to pitch well, and Bronson Arroyo’s nine flavors of junk consistently chew up innings while providing winnable ballgames. The Reds will need that kind of consistency as they wait for the lineup to start producing like it should. Manager Dusty Baker is not one to make a lot of in-game moves to the ’pen, so his club’s fortunes may rest on how far his rotation can take them.

—Christina Kahrl

Series 9 Preview: Cubs vs. Padres

Cashner

Former Cub Andrew Cashner will throw Wednesday for the Padres. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

While the Giants are busy winning World Series titles and the Dodgers continue to take on huge payroll to try to keep pace, their “small market” neighbors to the south have quietly assembled a team many think has the potential to surprise in the NL West. Manager Bud Black already turned a few heads last season, squeezing 76 wins out of a group many expected to finish at the bottom of the division. But through the first month of the season, the pieces haven’t quite clicked, as the team sits at 9-15 heading into the Cubs series. On the plus side, it helps that the Padres have developed a true superstar in switch-hitting third baseman Chase Headley, who opened the season on the DL with a thumb injury. Headley hit a career-high 33 home runs last year (after a previous career high of 12 in 2009) and drove in a league-leading 115 men. He’s gotten off to a slow start this year, but he has played in only 10 games. With the Friars moving in the fences at Petco Park this season, Headley could be a dark-horse MVP candidate.

HITTING: 3.6 RS/G 12th in NL
The shorter fences at Petco won’t help just Headley. Former White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin managed to slug .504 in a half season after coming back from knee surgery last year. Despite that lost time, he also achieved the rare feat of leading different leagues in hit by pitches in consecutive years. The Padres have high hopes that first baseman Yonder Alonso will blossom into a power source as a sophomore after ripping 39 doubles as a rookie. Black runs an aggressive offense, platooning to advantage, getting runners on base and then moving them to keep defenses guessing. Shortstop Everth Cabrera led the NL with 44 steals (against just four times caught stealing) in 2012, spearheading an efficient running game that generated 155 swiped bags. Add in the potential for a power boost in their previously pitcher-friendly home park, and it’s a lineup that should be better than their 3.6 runs a game might indicate.

PITCHING: 4.6 RA/G 13th in NL
The problem with the Padres’ pitching staff is simple: Some of the team’s best starters opened the season on the disabled list. Of course, not having to face Cory Luebke early in the season works to the Cubs’ advantage. In the meantime, San Diego will rely on some starters that should be very familiar to Chicago fans—ex-White Sox southpaw Clayton Richard and ex-Cub Andrew Cashner. They will also run out inconsistent Cincinnati import Edinson Volquez. One thing to watch for is Black’s deft touch with the bullpen, where his best weapon is the rubber-armed Luke Gregerson, who has become one of the best set-up men in baseball. Also keep an eye on Dale Thayer and lefty Joe Thatcher in situational matchups and tight spots.

—Christina Kahrl

Series 8 Preview: Cubs at Marlins

STANTON

Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton will bring defensive power to the field. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty)

On the heels of yet another teardown, the Marlins host the Cubs for a four-game set beginning Thursday night. Both teams are desperately looking to get on a roll and have a good opportunity to do this series.

In constructing their roster on the absolute slimmest of budgets, the Marlins have had to piece together a lineup of pre-arbitration youngsters and aging veterans on year-to-year contracts. The former includes catcher Rob Brantly (23) and second baseman Donovan Solano (25). Center fielder Justin Ruggiano, who broke out in 2012, falls into the pre-arb category as well, despite having just turned 31. On the other end are left fielder Juan Pierre (35), third baseman Placido Polanco (37) and first baseman Greg Dobbs (34). The entire collection ranks last in the NL in every slash stat (.221/.279/.296).

There is a definite superstar on this team, in hulking—and athletic—right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. His power and arm tools are at the top of the scale, and he’s convinced many doubters who feared he would strike out far too much to succeed in the big leagues. Since he debuted as a 20-year-old in 2010, he has hit for a .268 AVG/.349 OBP/.541 SLG and set career bests in each category (along with his 37 homers) despite the move to cavernous Marlins Park. He’s hitting .200 with no homers yet this season, but he’s still contributed by making several great plays with his glove and arm.

The Cubs will miss 20-year-old phenom Jose Fernandez, who was a surprise Opening Day call-up considering he hadn’t played above A ball yet. Thursday’s starter, Kevin Slowey, heavily relies on having pinpoint command over his four- and two-seam fastballs, but he can get hit hard and spent last season in Triple-A. Wade LeBlanc and Alex Sanabia are extreme fly-ball pitchers who will benefit from playing in the Marlins’ large yard. Meanwhile, you may find yourself craning your neck when watching the back end of the bullpen. Closer Steve Cishek winds it from the side but can still touch the mid-90s with his fastball. Meanwhile, 6-foot-11 setup man Jon Rauch forces batters to look upward. He throws from over top, and gives up a giant share of fly balls and homers with his low-90s fastball.


[PROBABLE PITCHERS]

Thursday, April 25—RHP Edwin Jackson (0-3, 4.84) vs. RHP Kevin Slowey (0-2, 1.90)

Friday, April 26—RHP Scott Feldman (0-3, 4.50) vs. LHP Wade LeBlanc (0-3, 6.27)

Saturday, April 27—LHP Travis Wood (1-1, 2.08) vs. RHP Alex Sanabia (2-2, 5.09)

Sunday, April 28—RHP Carlos Villanueva (1-0, 1.53) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (1-2, 3.81)


[PITCHER TO WATCH]
RICKY NOLASCO

The Marlins’ Sunday starter has undergone a fascinating evolution over the last three years. Nolasco has gone from a fly-ball pitcher who struck out nearly a batter an inning to one who induces a good amount of grounders and K’s only about six per nine. The change can be attributed to a heavy move away from his four-seam fastball. In its place have come a good low-90s sinker and a splitter. The latter is only used against lefties, while he’ll lean on his slider versus righties. A big, slow curve rounds out the repertoire. He has very good control over it all, but the infield defense—which sorely misses the injured Hechavarria—will have to support him.

—Sean Ahmed

Series 7 Preview: Cubs at Reds

Vottoi

The Cubs will keep an eye on slugger Joey Votto. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The division front-runners didn’t rest on their laurels after a 2012 NL Central championship, addressing a perennial weakness at the leadoff spot. They’re the favorites again and currently sit in first place.

GM Walt Jocketty acquired left-handed outfielder Shin-Soo Choo in a three-team trade that saw the Reds send Drew Stubbs to the Indians and prospect Didi Gregorius to the Diamondbacks. Replacing Stubbs with Choo exchanged defense for offense, and the contrast has been sharp so far. While Choo has made a hash of center field—where he hadn’t played extensively since Single-A ball—he’s hit .382 AVG/.523 OBP/.632 SLG, outpacing perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto in all three categories. Even as those numbers come back to Earth, Choo will provide an above-average walk rate, speed and some power, making him the top-of-the-order weapon the Reds needed.

Votto is, of course, the team’s engine and one of the game’s best players. In five full seasons, he’s never once had a batting average below .297, and he averages 40 doubles and 30 homers every 162 games. But just as valuable is his .419 career on-base percentage, tops among active players. He’s also on a contract that will keep him in Cincinnati through at least 2023. Cubs pitchers will have a hard time getting Votto to fish outside the zone, though he’s done his biggest damage on pitches down lately.

Outside of Choo and second baseman Brandon Phillips, the entire starting lineup is homegrown. Fantastic shortstop Zack Cozart, sophomore third baseman Todd Frazier and promising backstop Devin Mesoraco all were selected in the first two rounds of the 2007 draft. Meanwhile, corner outfielders Jay Bruce and Chris Heisey were drafted in 2006 and 2005, respectively.

The Cubs will face a trio of talented starting pitchers age 25 and younger. Right-hander Mike Leake has struggled with consistency since his promising 2010-11 campaigns, but he has excellent command and can befuddle hitters despite lacking a fastball that gets much out of the 80s. Southpaw Tony Cingrani takes the hill in the middle game after an impressive big league debut. In striking out eight Marlins over five innings, Cingrani showed a deceptive delivery and consistent three-quarters arm slot that played up his low-90s fastball and great change-up combination. He struck out an astounding 34 percent of batters faced in the minors without leveling off in the upper minors. Finally, “veteran” righty Mat Latos closes out the series with some more heat. His 3.48 ERA last year virtually matched his 2011 mark despite moving from spacious PETCO Park to an environment that is much more conducive to offense.

The last thing the Cubs want to do is see triple-digit lefty Aroldis Chapman in the ninth—where it seems he’ll stay after consideration for the rotation—but there’s some softness before that point. Former Cub Sean Marshall is out with shoulder tendinitis and may not be ready to come off the DL when he’s eligible Tuesday. Jonathan Broxton should bring late-inning firepower, but he’s struggled mightily so far. Overall, it’s a bullpen the Cubs will want to get to by the middle innings.


[PROBABLE PITCHERS]

Monday, April 22—LHP Travis Wood (1-1, 1.83) vs. RHP Mike Leake (1-0, 4.26)

Tuesday, April 23—RHP Carlos Villanueva (1-0, 1.29) vs. LHP Tony Cingrani (1-0, 1.80)

Wednesday, April 24—RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-3, 3.38) vs. RHP Mat Latos (0-0, 2.73)

—Sean Ahmed

Cubs play host to tough Rangers squad

Holland

The Cubs will face lefty Derek Holland Tuesday night. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

The following is from Vine Line‘s April Gameday Edition. Fans can purchase the full version of the official program and scorecard of the Chicago Cubs at various kiosks around Wrigley Field.

The previously high-flying Rangers come into 2013 trying to recover from the shock of blowing their AL West lead to the A’s in the season’s last week, and then losing the Wild Card play-in game to the upstart Orioles. That debacle triggered even more turbulence this offseason. Texas endured a winter of front office power struggles over former President Nolan Ryan’s role, saw star center fielder Josh Hamilton defect as a free agent—to the division rival Angels, no less—and traded away longtime fan favorite Michael Young to the Phillies.

The Rangers feel they’re strong enough to contend in 2013—and they still have one of the top prospects in the game in Jurickson Profar—but it’s easy to anticipate how a slow start could incite panic for a team that’s taken a tumble after winning back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011.

3.7 Runs Scored/Game — 21st in MLB

With Hamilton gone, the Rangers lost a premium bat from the left side. To replace him, they had to settle for two aging veterans, Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski. But the 37-year-old Big Puma is coming off a season ruined by injury, while the 36-year-old Pierzynski is likely due to come down from a surprising 27-homer year with the White Sox. Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin joins second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus to give the Rangers a lot of offense at the up-the-middle skill positions. But it will be interesting to see how much offense they get at the corners from Berkman, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland. One player they won’t have to worry about is Adrian Beltre, a premium defender with an MVP-caliber bat at the hot corner.

3.0 Runs Allowed/Game — T-3rd in MLB

Wherever else the Rangers have problems, they still have an outstanding front three in their starting rotation. Second-year Japanese import Yu Darvish more than lived up to lofty first-year expectations, while Matt Harrison and Derek Holland give the Rangers a pair of quality lefties who are both just coming into their own. Harrison is currently on the DL with a lower back strain and should return soon. But what the team does after those three is open to question. Even after seeing relief ace Neftali Feliz blow out his elbow after a move to the rotation last year (likely costing him most of 2013), the Rangers are doing the same thing with Alexi Ogando. Like Feliz, Ogando is talented enough to merit the move, but the Rangers can’t afford to see him break down as well. Once injured veterans Colby Lewis and Joakim Soria join the staff later in the season, the team might have the kind of depth to contend.

—Christina Kahrl

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