Phew. It's been a rough week and a half, hasn't it?
It all started with an ill-fated trip to Marlins Park where the Braves got swept in ugly fashion by the Marlins. The anguish continued with a sweep here in Atlanta at the hands of the Giants. But, a breakthrough finally occurred in the last series against the Cardinals: They didn't get swept! However, they still lost the series, and now they've got the Cubs coming to town for their last home series before a 6-game road trip.
It appears that the Braves have picked a pretty good time to run into the Cubs, and there's no snark here: The Cubs currently own the worst record in the National League at 11-21, and they only have 1 more win than the Astros as of May 7th. Otherwise, they'd have the least wins in all of baseball. So this should be a walk in the park for the Braves, right? Well, let's not get carried away and pencil this in as a bounce-back series.
Why's that? It's because of the fact that the Cubs' starting pitching has actually been decent so far (3rd best in the NL according to fWAR), and we'll be seeing their best this weekend. Jeff Samardzija is the perfect example of why you should never judge a pitcher by his W-L record, because he's been the ace of the Cubs' rotation so far. He's started 7 games, hasn't been a part of the decision in 4 of them, and was saddled with the loss in 3 of them. With a 1.62 ERA and 3.06 FIP, that's not something you put on Samardzija, and more on the rest of the Cubs being, well, the Cubs. His BABIP is a bit on the low side (.271 this season, .295 career average), but he still figures to be stiff competition for the Braves, especially considering the rough patch that the Braves bats are currently going through. The luck that Samardzija's been getting has gone to Friday night's starter, Jason Hammel. Hammel's record is at 4-1, but he's gotten better support from the Cubs in his starts, despite not having as good stats (2.43 ERA, 3.79 FIP) as Samardzija. Edwin Jackson's been serviceable this season as well, and will be coming off his best outing of the season earlier this week against the White Sox. However, he's been in the same boat as Jeff Samardzija: Good performances, little-to-no run support or luck.
Now, what about the Cubs offense? Well, the Cubs scored 12 runs last night against the crosstown rivals Chicago White Sox and beat them by 7. But will the Cubs explode like that in Atlanta? Judging by this snippet from that game's recap from our friends at Bleed Cubbie Blue (which is a great blog, btw), they don't feel too confident that this will continue:
Be not fooled by this offensive display, Cubs fans, the most runs a Cubs team had scored since a 14-6 demolition of the Astros June 23, 2013. This team will struggle to score runs against a better pitching staff. Is the injury-depleted Braves staff one of those? We'll find out starting Friday night...
The Cubs offense is currently ranked 13th in the NL by fWAR, and are currently, as a team, hitting .230/.300/.359 with a wOBA of .294 and a wRC+ of 80. That's barely worse than the Braves current stats (.234/.293/.380, .299 wOBA, 88 wRC+), but the thing is that, other than star 1B Anthony Rizzo, SS Starlin Castro (who is looking to bounce back from an abject 2013 season), 2B Emilio Bonifacio and OF Junior Lake (who are currently carrying astronomical BABIPs of .384 and .391, respectively), there hasn't been too much consistent production from the rest of the Cubs' bats.
My gut feeling is that we're probably going to see 3 low scoring games, or at least they'll be low scoring until the end of the game. The Braves will definitely have the advantage when it comes to bullpens, and the Cubs bullpen is not good. If the Braves offense can somehow wake up and get deep into the Braves bullpen, there are runs to be scored against that bullpen.
This is going to be a bit of a litmus test for the Braves as far as this current slump is concerned. We know they're bad right now, but are they bad enough to struggle mightily with the Cubs, or can they finally break out and return to being the team that we all figure that they can be?
Friday, May 9th at 7:35 pm EST
Jason Hammel (CHC)
4-1, 2.43 ERA, 3.79 FIP
Julio Teheran (ATL)
2-2, 1.80 ERA, 3.94 FIP
Saturday, May 10th at 7:10 PM EST
Jeff Samardzija (CHC)
0-3, 1.62 ERA, 3.06 FIP
Ervin Santana (ATL)
3-0, 2.41 ERA, 2.45 FIP
Sunday, May 11th at 1:35 PM EST
Edwin Jackson (CHC)
2-2, 4.57 ERA, 3.17 FIP
Alex Wood (ATL) Aaron Harang (ATL) 2-5, 3.00 ERA, 3.26 FIP 3-3, 2.98 ERA, 2.73 FIP