Sunday, August 14, 2022

Cubs Brace For Tough Upcoming Schedule

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At 7-9, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in fourth place in the National League Central standings at the moment, behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers (both tied for first), and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who recently took three of four from the Cubs at Wrigley Field.



The Cubs have played up-and-down baseball in the season’s first few weeks, and will soon find a very challenging schedule for the next two weeks until a potential break in the schedule around mid-May.

Offensively, the Cubs continue to surprise many across baseball, as the Cubs lead baseball in team batting average (.273), on-base percentage (.354), and OPS (.774) while sitting third in slugging percentage (.420). Their 21-0 drubbing of the Pirates over the weekend helped the Cubs avoid what would have been a five-game losing streak and kept them at the top of the leaderboard in these statistics.

On the pitching side, it has not been as pretty for the Cubs so far in 2022. Its team ERA of 4.11 is 21st in baseball out of 30 teams, while its team WHIP (1.31) is 22nd. They have just one quality start so far on the young season, as Kyle Hendricks notched his first one on April 23. That is a trend that can not continue much longer.

For the Cubs to get back over .500 and navigate this tough upcoming schedule, they will need better (and longer) outings from its starting rotation. Looking at the teams below, the Cubs will need that and plenty of offense, too, to keep their heads above water.

Atlanta Braves (road) April 26-28

The defending World Series champs are off to a sluggish start at 7-10, as they await the return of their superstar, Ronald Acuna Jr., from a season-ending knee injury suffered in 2021. The Braves are sixth in slugging percentage in baseball at the moment, led by Matt Olsen (.355/.461/.581), Ozzie Albies (.242/.325/.576), and Austin Riley (.295/.394/.590) and if this trio gets hot, watch out.

On the pitching side, the Cubs will face Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Kyle Wright.

Fried is fresh off a dominating start his last time out against the Dodgers, as he went seven innings and did not allow a run while issuing just two hits, zero walks, and striking out eight. He is a star in the making.

Speaking of stars, Charlie Morton, though struggling so far this year (6.32 ERA) is a good one, and Kyle Wright is one of baseball’s early-season breakouts. He has a shiny 1.06 ERA across three starts with a 26:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

This will surely be a test for the Cubs’ offense in Atlanta. If they can win two out of three, that would seem to be a small victory.

Milwaukee Brewers (road) April 29-May 1

The Cubs and Brewers met up to open the 2022 season in early April at chilly Wrigley Field, and the Cubs came out on top with a 2-1 series win (the original four-game series featured a postponement). In that series, the Brewers’ three-headed monster of starting pitchers Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta struggled with command and effectiveness. The Cubs were happy to take advantage.

But just two weeks later, the Brewers’ pitching seems to have found its groove again.

Burnes sports a 2.37 ERA in his 19 innings of work, Woodruff (4.30 ERA) is coming off his best start of the season (nine strikeouts, one hit allowed in six innings of work against the Pirates), and Peralta looked strong in his last game as well (five innings, 3 hits, one earned run, two walks, six strikeouts).

On Sunday Night Baseball, another Brewers pitcher stole the show, as Eric Lauer struck out 13 Philadelphia Phillies in six innings of work, allowing zero runs in the process. They also have Adrian Houser in the rotation, and all he’s done so far is produce a 3.52 ERA in 15.1 innings/three starts.

With the way the rotation lines up currently, the Cubs would draw Houser, Lauer, and Burnes in this three-game set in Milwaukee.  Good luck.

Oh, and closer Josh Hader is doing Josh Hader things with a 0.00 ERA in eight games so far with 11 strikeouts and just two walks allowed. Get a lead before the 9th inning, or beware.

Chicago White Sox (home) May 3-4

The team on this list in the biggest funk is the team on Chicago’s south side, though the White Sox can get hot at any moment, and just got injured ace Lucas Giolito back in its starting rotation.

They did, however, lose slugger Eloy Jimenez for 6-8 weeks with a hamstring injury, which adds one more name to its already-crowded injured list (Lance Lynn, Yoan Moncada, Joe Kelly, Garrett Crochet, and others). Superstar Luis Robert is also nursing a groin injury, closer Liam Hendriks is day-to-day, as is utilityman, Josh Harrison.

The Sox have lost seven in a row, and due to some canceled games, have not won a baseball game since Saturday, April 16.  They are a team suffering an early-season swoon but are also one of the most talented teams in Major League Baseball.

This two-game series will be brief, and hopefully, the White Sox bats will stay quiet. They have just 50 runs scored so far this season, the fifth-lowest in all of baseball. The Cubs lead the way with 84.

Los Angeles Dodgers (home) May 6-8

The powerhouse Dodgers will head east to Wrigley Field for a three-game series and bring its loaded roster of All-Stars, MVPs, and Cy Youngs with them.

Los Angeles sits atop the National League West with a half-game lead over the San Francisco Giants, and at 11-4, holds one of baseball’s best records. They are No. 1 in MLB.com’s current Power Rankings.

When it comes to the Dodgers’ strength, it’s picking your poison.

They have baseball’s best team ERA (2.22) and all five starters have ERAs at or under 4.00 (Walker Buehler is at 4.02). They also lead baseball in team WHIP, at 0.95.

They are second in baseball (behind the Cubs) in runs scored at 82, are tied for fifth in home runs (17), and are tied for fourth in walks (64). They, like the Cubs, don’t strike out too often either (both clubs are tied in eighth place with 128 strikeouts). Of the Dodgers’ regular nine-man batting lineup, seven of them have made at least one All-Star team over their career. Whoa.

So again, pick your poison. Did we mention they lead baseball with a +44 run differential?

It’s unclear who the Cubs will face on the mound as of now, but any combination of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, or Tony Gonsolin seems like a daunting task.

San Diego Padres (road) May 9-11

After the Cubs say farewell to the Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball, they will head west themselves to face the San Diego Padres, currently 10-7 and in fourth place in the rugged National League West.

The Padres are quietly humming along in the early going, as they, too, await the return of a superstar of their own in Fernando Tatis Jr. They are 13th in baseball in runs scored, and 15th in team ERA, so they are above-average right now in the pitching and offense categories.

The Padres have a very good starting rotation, led by Joe Musgrove, who’s quietly putting together a great season (1.89 ERA in 19 innings; 21:1 K-to-BB ratio). They also feature former Oakland Athletic Sean Manaea (3.47 ERA), former Cub Yu Darvish (4.43 ERA), and rookie sensation MacKenzie Gore (1.74 ERA in two starts).

Offensively, Manny Machado leads the way with his .987 OPS, and he’s joined by Jurickson Profar and Eric Hosmer, who are holding OPS numbers in the high-.800s right now.

They will be a tough opponent wherever the games are played, and the Cubs typically do not play well on west-coast trips.

Brace yourself for a challenging, and potentially rocky, two weeks of baseball, Cub fans. If the Cubs can come out of this stretch at .500 or better, that would be a great sign that this 2022 squad has potential for good things down the road. Here’s hoping that happens.

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