Is spite of a solid 35-29 record, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in third place in the NL Central division, behind the streaking Pirates (39-27) and the best team in baseball - the Cardinals (43-23). With a mix of strong financial resources and one of the two best farm systems in the game, the Cubs are an immensely fun club to watch. I firmly believe that this series will be a preview of the 2017 World Series and you can't change my mind.
Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue got in touch late last week about exchanging a bit of a preview for this series, and naturally I agreed. Here's what he had to saw about his Cubs.
These aren't your father's Cubs. Or even your big brother's.
After five straight losing seasons, the last three under Theo Epstein's teardown and rebuild, the Cubs are making contending noises this year.
Much of that is due to having Joe Maddon become available to them as manager. Maddon's success in Tampa Bay has already rubbed off on many of the Cubs, who seem to be playing harder and smarter than before. Maddon's presence might also have been a factor in Jon Lester's decision to sign with the Cubs as a free agent.
Lester, who you'll see Saturday, has been up-and-down so far this year, being bad in April, great in May, a bit shaky so far in June. The other two Cubs starters in the series are Kyle Hendricks, who can be dominant if he can get teams to hit ground balls, and Jake Arrieta, who's not anything like the pitcher you might have seen when he was in the A.L. with the Orioles.
The Cubs' offense is led by Anthony Rizzo, who's likely headed for his second All-Star selection. Top prospect Kris Bryant was promoted in mid-April and has been as advertised, though he was in a bit of a power drought until breaking out of it with a home run on Wednesday. He became the first player to hit a home run off the new left-field video board at Wrigley Field May on 26, which was his prior homer. In 17 games since then he's been hitting pretty well -- .316/.395/.474 -- but with just the one home run.
The rest of the Cubs' offense has been a bit sluggish of late, following a 12-3 blowout of the Tigers a week ago. The Cubs' bullpen, horrid early-on, has been solid recently as Maddon has gone to closer-by-committee between Hector Rondon, Jason Motte and Pedro Strop. Even ex-starter Travis Wood has a save this year.
This is an odd matchup in that neither team has any players who ever played for the other, so we're probably as unfamiliar to you as you are to us. I'm most interested in seeing the Twins' version of Bryant, top prospect Byron Buxton, just called up last week. Target Field's a fun place; I was there for this matchup in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed everything. Look for tons of Cubs fans to make the six-hour drive north for this series.
I'll share a link to my preview for Al when it posts later this afternoon. Until then just know that I was not nearly as concise. Turns out that when I get on a roll I just keep talking.
Game 1: Friday, June 19
First Pitch: 7:10pm CDT
Kyle Hendricks (RHP, 3.45 FIP, 1.15 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR) vs Phil Hughes (RHP, 4.59 FIP, 1.34 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR)
Game 2: Saturday, June 20
First Pitch: 1:10pm CDT
Jon Lester (LHP, 3.51 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR) vs Trevor May (RHP, 3.16 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, 1.5 fWAR)
Game 3: Sunday, June 21
First Pitch: 1:10pm CDT
Jake Arrieta (RHP, 3.04 FIP, 1.16 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR) vs Kyle Gibson (RHP, 4.41 FIP, 1.25 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR)
Probable Cubs Lineup
Dexter Fowler, CF (99 OPS+)
Anthony Rizzo, 1B (168)
Kris Bryant, 3B (144)
Miguel Montero, C (123)
Starlin Castro, SS (81)
Chris Coghlan, LF (115)
Chris Denorfia, RF (146)
Kyle Schwarber, DH (361)
Addison Russell, 2B (101)
We're going to get a look at two teams turning their rosters over to young stars of the future, but one thing is certain: as far as progress of the position players go the Cubs are further along than the Twins. That offense is dangerous, and Minnesota pitchers have their work cut out for them. I'm calling a 1-2 series for the Twins, but make your voice heard by casting your vote below.