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Phillies Set to Take on Second Place Team: Phillies vs. Cubs Preview

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The Phillies will head to Chicago to face the non-division leading Cubs in a three-game set

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

After a somewhat unsuccessful series against the Giants, the Phillies will travel to Chicago to face the Cubs. At first glance, this is bad news for the Phillies, since despite not being in first place (more on this later), the Cubs are (on paper) a better team than the Giants. But as the Giants series taught us (including those of us who predicted an easy series win for the Phillies), life - and baseball - doesn’t always play out the way it’s supposed to.

Phillies vs. Cubs - A Brief History

Before Major League Baseball realigned its divisions in 1994, the Phillies and Cubs were both members of the National League East. The teams played each other frequently, and there were some definite highlights, like when Mike Schmidt hit four home runs in one game. There were also some lowlights, like when that dastardly Greg Maddux broke Lenny Dykstra’s wrist on Opening Day in 1992. (Although there’s a good chance Lenny deserved it.)

Now that the Cubs are in the Central, the matchups are less frequent, but the Phillies have had a decisive advantage. Their record since the division split is 96-77. The Phillies also have the advantage in no-hitters thrown against each other. They have one (and came close to a second), while the Cubs have never been able to hold the Phillies hitless.

Astute Phillies fans will know that the losing pitcher in that no-hitter was Jake Arrieta. I’m not saying the experience affected his feelings regarding the two organizations, but it may not be a coincidence that he signed with the Phillies.

The 2018 Cubs: What’s the Deal?

The Cubs are 33-23, which seems like a pretty good record. But then you see that they aren’t in first place, so you wonder just how good they could be. And then you see that the team ahead of them in the standings is the Milwaukee Brewers, and you really question if the Cubs are any good at all.

Yes, the Cubs are behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings. That’s pretty amazing because the Brewers franchise is about as adverse to finishing in first place as any team in baseball. Over the past 35 seasons, the Brewers have managed to finish in first one time. I know that in baseball, success can be relative, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone considers a 1/35 success rate to be good.

The Cubs currently hold the top Wild Card spot, but after two straight division titles, squeaking into the playoffs as a runner-up doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment.

Phillies Pitchers vs. Cubs Offense

On paper, the Cubs have one of the best offenses in the league. They’re leading the league in batting average, OPS, and runs scored. (Only third in home runs though.) As impressive as that sounds, keep in mind that they’ve been playing against the likes of the Giants, Reds, and Pirates in recent weeks. Some of those bloated offensive numbers might be the result of facing lesser competition. We’ll see if they look quite so impressive against the team whose starting pitchers have the lowest ERA over the past month.

The Cubs are going to have their work cut out for them this week as the Phillies’ scheduled starters all have some history of success against them. Zach Eflin certainly wasn’t intimidated pitching in Wrigley Field last season. While he didn’t come away with a win, he pitched seven solid innings. Nick Pivetta has never pitched in Wrigley, but he does own a 1-0 record against the Cubs.

Speaking of guys who are undefeated against the Cubs, Aaron Nola gets the ball on Saturday. The Cubs’ lineup might be dangerous, but the way Nola has been pitching lately, it probably won’t even matter.

Sure, the Cubs might think that a lineup full of guys like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Javier Baez is impressive, but you know who else is impressive? This guy:

Considering that Gabe Kapler has shown no qualms about using Dominguez for multiple innings, the Cubs had better hope they aren’t trailing after seven innings.

Cubs Pitchers vs. Phillies Offense

The Cubs pitchers likely watched the Giants series and got excited. It certainly wasn’t the finest moment for the Phillies’ hitters as they faced an uninspiring array of pitchers and scored a total of one run. (Thanks to a home run by their pitcher no less!)

The bad news for the Cubs is that last weekend’s pitiful showing is certainly not representative of the Phillies’ offensive capabilities, and the law of averages makes me think that things are going to turn around soon. Hitters like Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez are simply too good to languish in extended slumps.

Besides, it’s not like the Cubs will even be using their best starters this series. Yu Darvish is hurt, and Jon Lester’s turn doesn’t come until Friday. So who are the Cubs using instead?

Kyle Hendricks was a Cy Young Award candidate two years ago, but his ERA this season is over a full run higher than it was in 2016. His FIP is over 4, so he may be lucky that his ERA is as low as it is. He’s got company in Jose Quintana, another pitcher who hasn’t matched his 2016 performance. He’s given up four or more runs in five starts this season.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, Tyler Chatwood gets the ball. There was a report that the Phillies pursued Chatwood as a free agent this offseason. Those in favor of going after Chatwood believed that his inconsistent career (as well as a league-leading 15 losses in 2017) was the result of pitching his home games in Colorado.

It seems the Phillies may have been wise to avoid him. Leaving Colorado hasn’t improved his control, since he’s walking a ridiculous 8.2 batters per nine innings. In other words, Sunday’s game would be a very good time for the Phillies to rediscover the patient approach which served them well earlier in the season.

In the bullpen, Brandon Morrow has been handling closer duties, and he’s been exceptional. However, I am slightly skeptical of a guy who suddenly becomes an elite closer at the age of 33. Can he sustain this success over a full season, or will we see some regression soon?

Boo This Man

Normally in baseball, offense is king, and a player’s defensive capabilities are an afterthought. For some reason, when it comes to Jason Heyward, the opposite is true. His offensive numbers have never been spectacular, but due to his amazing prowess in the outfield, he’s often treated like a superstar.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs apparently felt that elite fielding in right field accompanied by average hitting was worth $28 million per season. Meanwhile, thanks to the magic of rookie contracts, his fellow outfielders are making less than $1 million despite putting up much better offensive numbers.

Will this imbalance eventually lead to resentment that will tear the Cubs’ clubhouse apart and bring about the downfall of their season? The situation bears watching.

At Least You Tried

Do you want to see a Cubs fan botch a gender reveal stunt? Of course you do!

Maybe she should have put the baby down before trying to pitch the ball? Anyway, I just hope the Cubs themselves hit and catch the ball about as well as that guy.

Prediction

Despite only being in second place, the Cubs are not without talent. They’re far too good to get swept, especially when the Phillies’ offense hasn’t really been clicking lately.

But as I mentioned, the Phillies bats won’t stay quiet forever, and based on their histories against the Cubs, the starting pitchers should be able to keep them in a game. The teams will split the first two, and the Phillies will find a way to earn a win in the finale.