I predicted the Phillies would lose their series against the Rockies. (Good call, Smarty!) Don’t worry, that temporary burst of pessimism is gone, and it’s time for some good old fashioned course correction! I’m feeling extremely optimistic as the Phillies head to Wrigley to take on the Cubs.
Record: 27-17, First place in National League Central
The last time they met
The Cubs traveled to Philadelphia in late August 2018. Despite the Phillies being in the midst of a swoon at the time, they won the opener in walk off fashion. Unfortunately, that didn’t help them the next two days, as they lost by a combined score of 15-2.
Are the Cubs for real?
A season after allowing the Milwaukee Brewers - a team that historically almost never makes the playoffs - to win their division, the Cubs back-doored their way into the postseason as a wild card team. Their stay lasted an entire day before losing the wild card game to the Rockies at home. (Losing a game to the Rockies at home? Can’t relate.)
The 2019 Cubs started off the season poorly, going 3-8. They’ve since rebounded to move into first place, but who’s to say which Cubs team is the “real” one? The version that good off to a slow start or the one which has been nearly unstoppable since then? Since I’m erring on the side of optimism today, I’ll assume the former.
Bye bye Baez
Heading into a series against a first place team, you’d probably want all your best players to be available. It’s too bad for the Cubs that one of their best players, shortstop Javier Baez, suffered a heel contusion over the weekend and is questionable for this series. They may have to rely more on utility man Addison Russell which is a huge step down.
Bryce owns Wrigley
I mean that literally: Bryce Harper owns a dog named Wrigley. He also seems to love hitting at Wrigley Field, with a career OPS of 1.106 there. After he caught fire this past weekend, the Cubs are probably a bit worried about how to get him out. It’s lucky for them that they have three left-handed starters scheduled to start this week, right? Because as everyone knows, the best way to get a left-handed hitter out is with a left-handed pitcher.
Apparently “everyone” doesn’t include Bryce Harper. Against lefty pitchers, he’s slashing an impressive .304/.407/.630. Unless they Cubs want to share a similar fate as the Rockies, they’d better come up with some way to get him out.
Bryce Harper being told it's time to leave Wrigley Field pic.twitter.com/bySdD3LKlX— Eric Is Tweeting (@ericmichel) August 13, 2018
People got really worked up about all the money the Phillies gave to Harper, but let’s not forget that once upon a time, the Cubs thought it was a good idea to give Jason Heyward an eight year/$184 million contract.
Heyward has never been a bad player, but I wouldn’t want to pay that much money to a player whose value mostly came from his defensive ability at a non-premier position. He hasn’t had an OPS above .800 since 2012, and only had single digits in home runs in two of the past three seasons.
The scary part for the Cubs is that his defense might be slipping. According to both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, Heyward’s defense has been below average this season.
Starting a go fund me to buy out the rest of Jason Heyward contract— Tanner Bradley (@22tbrads22) April 6, 2019
Speaking of questionable contracts
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cubs decided not to retain Jake Arrieta, and instead gave a six-deal to Yu Darvish. There may be some feelings of regret regarding that decision within the Cubs organization. Arrieta certainly hasn’t been an ace for the Phillies, but at this point, the Cubs would probably be thankful if Darvish could even get to Arrieta’s level of decent mid-rotation starter.
Darvish’s first season was cut short by injury, and in year two, he’s been a major disappointment. His ERA hasn’t been below 5.00 all season, and he’s currently leading the National League in walks allowed.
As it happens, Darvish and Arrieta will be in direct competition with each other as they’re the scheduled starters for Monday night’s series opener. Cubs fans are understandably feeling a bit of angst about the matchup.
Darvish vs Arrieta at Wrigley tonight. This has disaster written all over it. I expect Arrieta to go 6 with 1 run and I expect darvish to go 3 with 7 runs— SportGenius (@ArkanianSteve) May 20, 2019
Monday night...the Cubs' Yu Darvish against Phillies' Jake Arrieta... pic.twitter.com/H7ExuCYCoQ— Joey Teeple (@joeyteeple) May 16, 2019
Wednesday’s game will give us the matchup we’ve always wanted: Cole Hamels vs. Cole Irvin in a showdown to decide which Cole reigns supreme. Will it be the Cole from Phillies past or the Cole from Phillies present (and hopefully future)?
Both Coles are pitching well this season. Hamels has looked revitalized since returning to the National League, and has a sparkling 4-0 record to go along with a 3.13 ERA. Irvin has a long way to go to meet those standards, but so far so good for the young lefty. He’s started two games and won them both, and even showed some toughness in his last start, pitching through some defensive adversity.
After the Brewers series, there was talk that the Phillies weren’t on the level of the National League’s best teams. The Phillies are going to put that talk to rest when they take three of the four games.