After a road trip that could have gone better, the Phillies return home to take on the Cubs. At first glance, the Cubs are a tough opponent, but then you see their road record, and they don’t seem quite as impressive.
Record: 64-54, First place in National League Central
The last time they met
The Phillies visited Wrigley Field for a four-game set in May, and split the games. The Phillies would have won the series had a shortage of bullpen arms not led to Juan Nicasio serving as the closer in one of those games. How good should a team feel about a win if it came at the expense of a team using Juan Nicasio as its closer? (Unfortunately, due to the slew of injuries that have plagued the Phillies’ bullpen, Nicasio is currently considered one of the team’s more reliable bullpen options.)
The friendly confines
The Cubs’ first place status is mostly due to their dominance at home. They have a 41-19 record at Wrigley Field, but have struggled to a 23-35 record in road games. So before anyone gets too intimidated by the Cubs’ first place status, keep in mind that if you get them away from home, they usually perform more like a fourth place team.
The 2019 Chicago Cubs won a road game— Luke (@LukeAtMeNow23) August 11, 2019
Darvish or Arrieta? How about neither?
Before the 2018 season, the Cubs chose to sign starting pitcher Yu Darvish rather than retain their own pending free agent Jake Arrieta. While Arrieta has experienced difficulties in Philadelphia, Darvish has also been a massive disappointment in Chicago. His 2018 season was cut short due to injury, and while he’s been healthy in 2019, he hasn’t been especially good either.
Darvish has a 4.48 ERA and leads the National League in home runs allowed with 26. The Phillies haven’t been the best home run hitting team this season, but it seems like they should be able to take him deep at least once. Perhaps Corey Dickerson will be the guy to do it, since he has a .400 lifetime average against Darvish with one previous home run.
On the bright side, unlike Arrieta, there are no reports that Darvish has any bone spurs in his elbow, so he should at least be healthy as he gets paid $81 million to give up a lot of homers over the next four years.
Yu Darvish: "No walks, 9 strikeouts, only 4 hits. And three Fu----- homers. That sucks."— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 10, 2019
Speaking of wrong decisions
Largely due to injuries to just about all of their top relievers, the Phillies’ bullpen has not been a team strength for much of the season. Earlier in the year, there was a clamoring for the Phillies to sign closer Craig Kimbrel who was still a free agent into June.
The Phillies lost a big game last night because Pat Neshek is a petulant child and because Matt Klentak refuses to fill the biggest hole on the roster. The Phillies need a closer. They need CRAIG KIMBREL. Why can’t they see this?— Angelo Cataldi (@AngeloCataldi) May 22, 2019
The Cubs were the team to eventually sign him, but he hasn’t been the savior for their relief corps. In his brief time with the Cubs, he’s blown two save opportunities, and is currently on the injured list with knee swelling.
On second thought, maybe the Phillies should have signed him. An older reliever with injury problems who has been shaky when healthy would fit in just fine with the rest of their bullpen.
Nola vs. Cole-a
One Cubs player I won’t say anything bad about is Cole Hamels. This is partly because in their entire team history, the Phillies have had two players named World Series MVP, and he is one of them. It’s also because I wouldn’t mind it if the Phillies brought him back next season.
Of course, the Phillies could have had Hamels on this year’s team had they been more aggressive at the 2018 trade deadline:
How much better would the 2019 Phillies roster look if they'd beaten the Cubs offer to acquire Cole Hamels last July?— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) March 1, 2019
Hamels is having another strong season, with a 3.09 ERA. Unfortunately for him, he’s probably only the second best starting pitcher in that game. He’ll be opposed by Aaron Nola in a clash of Phillies aces past and present. Nola earned his first career win against the Cubs, and defeated them once already this season.
The Cubs are considered a strong offensive team, but I have to wonder: Why don’t they have anyone hitting .300 or better? You may say that batting average doesn’t matter, but then why do the Cubs have the third best OPS in the National League, but are only fifth in runs scored?
Flashback of ineptitude: Ronny Cedeño
Ronny Cedeño broke into the majors at age 22 with the Cubs. He had been a top 100 prospect, mostly because any decent-looking minor league shortstop can usually sneak onto a top prospect list. That prospect status did not portend future major league success.
Cedeno was a decent - far from elite - fielder, who was not strong with the bat. He was the Cubs regular shortstop in 2006, but his .610 OPS and -1.7 WAR made the Cubs look for other options. The following season, he was supplanted in that role by Ryan Theriot. A good rule of thumb is: If Ryan Theriot is considered an upgrade, you are not a good player.
He might not have technically been the worst, but Ronny Cedeno was the DUMBEST player I've ever seen and I've seen a significant portion of Ryan Theriot's career firsthand. https://t.co/RSL4WSiLWO— Account For Regular Tweetin', Not Fancy Tweetin' (@Aisle424) February 8, 2019
Relegation to the bench didn’t help Cedeno’s hitting, as he batted just .203 in 2007. He floated around the majors for a few years, and eventually ended up on the 2014 Phillies, for whom he had nine hitless at bats. Thankfully, I have little recollection of Cedeno’s brief stint with the Phillies.
I see he was eventually traded to the Diamondbacks for a minor leaguer named Raywilly Gomez. I am saddened that Gomez didn’t make the majors, because I would have been excited to root for a guy named Raywilly.
Welcome back, Charlie
With the return of Charlie Manuel to the team, I expect the Phillies’ offense to look much better than it has for most of the season. While I doubt their disappointing offense is solely due to the former hitting coach, moves like this tend to provide teams with short-term bursts of success.
I’m sure he’s already got an idea or two ready for how to fix the team’s hitting.
The first move Charlie's gonna make is for the Phillies to start hitting with the juiced balls the rest of the league uses.— Smarty Jones (@TheSmartyJones) August 13, 2019
In other words, the Cubs picked a really bad time to visit Philadelphia.
I was going to predict a mere series win for the Phillies. But with Charlie coming back? SWEEP!