April 25, 2010

Series Preview: Washinton Natinals (10-9) at Chicago Cubs (9-10)

The Cubs prepared for their upcoming series with the over-.500 Natinals by taking three days off to do nothing but take batting practice. Even Aramis Ramirez looks like he's starting to break out of his slump, getting some good contact in the last BP session.

The Cubs somehow managed to pull a winning record out of that road trip, and the big reason is still starting pitching. I mentioned this in my last preview, but wanted to extend the numbers. Here are the ERs (and IP) given up by Cubs starters since the beginning of the Astros facepalm-inducing series

0, (7.0), 2 (3.0), 1 (7.2), 1 (6.0) 2 (6.0), 1 (6.0), 2 (5.2) 1 (7.2), 0 (6.0), 2 (7.0)

That's an ERA of 1.74, folks. The Cubs starting pitching is pretty good.

As far as the Natinals go, it's pretty similar to last year. Their offense is surprisingly good (5th in the NL), the starters are appallingly bad (second worst FIP and xFIP in all of MLB), and they play decent defense, led by the underrated Nyjer Morgan. Their second best player, Ryan Zimmerman, is banged up and likely won't be able to play in all three games (he missed the last series except for a pinch-hit appearance). Their best player is of course pitching for Harrisburg.

Position players (wOBA, CHONE wOBA, CHONE UZR)

  1. C Pudge Rodriguez, RHB (.449, .290, 2.3)
  2. 1b Adam Dunn, LHB (.363, .378, -4.0)
  3. 2b Cristian Guzman, BHB (.306, .316, 0.0)
  4. SS Ian Desmond, RHB (.331, .324, -18.6)
  5. 3b Ryan Zimmerman (.445, .379, 0.0)
  6. LF Josh Willingham, RHB (.468, .361, -0.9)
  7. CF Nyjer Morgan, LHB (.363, .321, 10.3)
  8. RF Willie Harris, LHB (.329, .328, 2.6)

Pitchers (FIP, xFIP, CHONE FIP)
  1. John Lannan, LHP (5.50, 5.28, 4.74)
  2. Craig Stammen, RHP (4.28, 3.66, 4.96)
  3. Zombie Livan Hernandez, RHP (4.22, 4.96, 4.83)
  4. Scott Olsen, LHP (6.40, 4.08, 5.12)
  5. Luis Atilano, RHP (3.68, 5.27, -)
  6. Matt Capps, RHP (3.69, 4.68, 3.82)
  7. Brian Bruney, RHP (6.37, 6.61,4.35)
  8. Tyler Clippard, RHP (1.69, 3.29, 4.20)

A lot of these guys are really tearing the cover off the ball, especially Pudge and Willingham. Laughably Riggleman has been batting Cristian Guzman, arguably the worst batter on the team, in the 3-spot while Zimmerman was out.

The Natinals have quite a laundry list of injured players. Ryan Zimmerman has been having hamstring issues. Pudge has a sore back. RF Willie Harris had an MRI on his sore knee yesterday which came back okay, but he's expected to miss Monday's game at least. Catcher Jesus Flores had offseason shoulder and elbow surgery and still has not begun throwing. Cubs Legend Jason Marquis (the greatest fifth starter ever) is on the DL with floating bodies in his throwing elbow. Starter Garret Mock is on the DL with a spine injury with no timetable for return. The Natinals also have Chien-Ming Wang and future star Jordan Zimmerman on the 60-day DL recovering from arm surgeries.

The only injury out there for the Cubs is Caridad, who has been throwing in Arizona. According to this Bruce Miles report, Caridad could be reactivated after this homestand.

Players to watch
As mentioned above, Rodrigo Ramirez seems to have started squaring up the ball again. Hopefully the upcoming Natinals pitchers will keep the Cubs bats hot and build even more confidence. For the Natinals, I hope Adam Dunn strikes out 12 times and commits 4-5 errors at 1b, to ram a stake into the 'Cubs should have signed Dunn' partisans that will inevitably turn up the volume of their whinging in this series.

Pitching Probables
Monday: John Lannan, LHP (5.50, 5.28, 4.74) vs Carlos Silva, RHP (3.06, 4.03, 4.67), 7:05 PM CT
Lannan, the Natinals erstwile ace, 'kept his team in the game' in his last start, and admitted that his off-speed pitchers were not working for him. He has been pretty unlucky though, with a .350 BABIP. The Fail Whale, meanwhile, has posted a ridiculous .178 BABIP so far, so that's going to go up. He's also seen a jump in his K-rate and big drop in his BB-rate. Obviously none of these are sustainable. It will be interesting to see where his numbers level off.

Tuesday: Zombie Livan Hernandez, RHP (4.22, 4.96, 4.83) vs Tom Gorzelanny, LHP (2.14, 3.42, 4.43), 7:10 PM CT
I was about to complain about how Hernandez has pitched so late into his career and was surprised to find that he's only 35. It seems like he's been around forever. Something must have happened to him in 2006 (injury?), because after cranking out 7 years with FIPs more or less in the high 3's, his FIP jumped by about a run. His main problem is that his strikeout rate has gone waaaay down from earlier in his career, and he's posted an eyeball-averaged 4 strikeouts per nine innings over the last three seasons. Most of what he has left is his durability - in his last few years as an effective starter, he pitched 233, 255, and 246 innings on some awful Expos/Natinals teams. He's been lucky so far this year, posting a .158 BABIP and leading some to wonder how he turned it around this year, but he's still the same shitty pitcher from the last few years. Which of course means he'll throw a 3-hit shutout tonight.

As far as Gorzelanny goes, I still think despite all evidence to the contrary that he's the most likely guy to be demoted to the pen if they ever move Z back (*jams improvised paper-clip shiv in ear*). Just a feeling. He has been striking out a ton of batters in his first few starts, which is a nice sign.

Wednesday: Luis Atilano, RHP (3.68, 5.27, -) vs Ryan Dempster, RHP (2.92, 3.54, 3.89), 1:20 PM CT
Atilano made his major league debut last week agains the Dodgers and was fairly effective, allowing only one run over 6 innings. He wasn't blowing anyone away though - he only struck out one. None of the systems (on fangraphs at least) seem to have projected him, but based on last year's minor league numbers he's basically a replacement level starter. He has decent control, but that's about it. Maybe HP will chime in more on what he throws before his start.

Dempster continues to roll along, piling up strikeouts and getting a decent number of ground balls, exactly what you want to see. He's been a bit lucky with HRs, but there's no question that he's the best pitcher on the team right now.

Prediction Cubs win 2 out of 3, and climb back to .500. Given the shitty pitchers the Cubs are facing this series, a sweep is not out of the question, but the Natinals have a decent offense and are facing the back end of the Cubs rotation here too.