Cubs/Nationals Series Preview


While the Los Angeles Dodgers have been grabbing all the headlines in recent weeks, the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals are still intent on winning their own respective National League divisions and doing whatever it takes to reach the World Series from the National League.

The Cubs were there last year, and are long overdue this summer to "remember" what it takes to play championship caliber baseball. Washington is long overdue to play to its talent level in the postseason! Both are still market favorites with the Dodgers to win the NL. The guys behind "Futures" prices know that anything can happen in the postseason...and that both the Cubs and Nats are extremely likely to be playing in October.

They're 100% certain to be playing this week...against each other!

A huge four-game series begins Monday night in the nation's capital. This will definitely have a playoff feel to it because top pitchers are set to go for both teams. The Cubs will have to deal with Scherzer and Strasburg. The Nationals will see Arrieta, though there are concerns that Jake ain't what he used to be.

Let's run through the key indicator stats to see who should have the edge this week...and who could represent the biggest challenge for the Dodgers in October

Chicago: +24 runs, while playing 38 home games and 37 road games
Washington: +88 runs, while playing 35 home games and 40 road games

The Cubs have been a disappointment all they're not going to impress in their numbers to this point. If this week's results will be determined by this year's stats, the Nationals should dominate. Handicappers must determine if and when the Cubs are going to find that higher gear. Washington is playing like a true contender...and would be even more impressive with a balanced home/road split (which they'll have achieved by the end of this series).

Chicago: 4.7 runs-per-game, .327 on-base, .423 slugging
Washington: 5.7 runs-per-game, .344 on-base, .479 slugging

Washington can absolutely crush bad pitching, which you saw Saturday against the Reds. That can create some misleadingly great numbers for when they run into good pitching. So, they do deserve the nod on offense...but their head-to-head edge may not be as big as that seems vs. the best part of the Cubs rotation. To this point in the season, the Cubs are still getting people on base (a hallmark of an analytics-minded management), but slugging has disappeared.

Here are the probable starting pitching matchups....

Butler: 4.19 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 5.8 K's per 9 innings
Gonzalez: 2.96 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.3 K's per 9 innings

Clear edges for Gio in this one, even if you assume he can't keep his ERA below 3.00 for the season. He gets more strikeouts, and is likely to get good run support against an overmatched opposing pitcher who's going to try to "pitch to contact" against the potent Nationals bats.

Arrieta: 4.36 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 9.5 K's per 9 innings
Scherzer: 2.09 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 12.1 K's per 9 innings

This would have been a dream pitching matchup last season. Arrieta has fallen back to earth a bit because of lost velocity (though his K-Rate is still more than acceptable). Scherzer has replaced Clayton Kershaw in the minds of some baseball analysts as the best pitcher in baseball at the moment. Kershaw's allowing too many HR's. Scherzer is posting Cy Young numbers with that very high K-Rate. Big edge again to the Nationals. And, frankly, the Cubs aren't really a championship threat if Arrieta can't get his ERA below 4.00.

Lackey: 4.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 8.4 K's per 9 innings
Strasburg: 3.57 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 10.3 K's per 9 innings

Third straight game where the Nats get the best of it in the pitching matchup. They will likely have more strikeouts from the starter in all three of these openers. Even if you pencil in some regression for Arrieta and Lackey (meaning they'll start throwing better than they have), the edge still goes to Scherzer and Strasburg. At this point in the preview, it's pretty clear which of these teams is the bigger threat to the Dodgers!

Lester: 3.83 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9.1 K's per 9 innings
Ross: 5.40 ERA, 1.48WHIP, 8.3 K's per 9 innings

The best chance for the Cubs to steal one comes in the series finale. That WHIP for Ross is particularly concerning. He may not get any postseason innings if he doesn't get a better handle on things. Lester's K-Rate and WHIP are good enough to get the job done...but not really "ace" caliber. The Cubs don't have anybody throwing at an elite level this season...and that's happening in front of an offense that doesn't slug much unless the wind is blowing out in their home park.

Well, that was basically a tutorial on how disappointing the Cubs have been so far. If they keep playing as they have, they'll drop at least three of four here and might get swept. If last year's "date with destiny" team bothers to show up again...then things could get interesting.