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Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians series preview

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Just a normal April series against an inter-divisional opponent, Nothing significant here.

Chicago Cubs v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians just had a very successful series against the Baltimore, taking 3 of 4 against the birds at Camden Yards. Now, the Indians head back to Progressive Field for the next 10 days, beginning with a two-game set against the Chicago Cubs.

Looking ahead

The Indians embark, once again, on their longest home stand of the year. After the Cubs leave town, the Mariners are in town for 4 games followed by the Rangers for 3 games and the Blue Jays for a make-up double header. The Cubs, after this pit stop at Progressive Field, will head back to Wrigley to face the Brewers for 4 games and the Rockies for 3 games.

Pitching match-ups

Tuesday, April 24 6:10 p.m. ET: Tyler Chatwood (RHP) v. Josh Tomlin (RHP)

Tyler Chatwood was not a member of the 2016 Cubs, so he doesn’t get my ire yet. Only if he shuts down the Indians later tonight will I catalog him under the “Members of the Cubs I hate” file. The 28-year-old had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and missed all of 2015 recovering from it. He bounced back with a stellar 2016, pitching a career high in innings. Last season, Chatwood looked good but not great; in 147.2 innings, Chatwood allowed 77 earned runs while walking 77 and striking out 120 (which translates to an ERA+ of 107). He’s got a number of pitches that are effective in multiple ways; his mid-90s fastball and his 12-6 curveball can both get batters to swing and miss, his sinker can get hitters to pop out with relative regularity, and his slider borders on being a cut-fastball and induces a ton of ground balls. So far this season, Chatwood has pitched 15.2 innings and has allowed 8 earned runs while walking 14 and striking out 18 (which translates to an ERA+ of 89). His most recent start came on April 17 against the Cardinals; in that game, Chatwood went just 4.2 innings and allowed 2 runs on 1 hit while walking 7 and striking out 7.

Due to rainouts and off days, Josh Tomlin hasn’t started a game since April 10. He did pitch during the 16-inning slog in Puerto Rico on April 18, but it was just for an inning. During his last start, Tomlin went 5.0 innings and allowed zero runs on 4 hits while walking 2 and striking out 3.

Wednesday, April 25 7:10 p.m. ET: Jon Lester (LHP) v. Trevor Bauer (RHP)

Oh cool, a 2016 World Series Game 5 repeat. I’m sure no one will talk about this at all (the irony that I just mentioned it is not lost on me).

Jon “I can’t throw to first base because reasons” Lester is still pitching for the Cubs and he’s been doing so since 2015. Sure, his career year came in the worst possible year ever, but he was merely average last season. In 2017, Lester threw 180.2 innings and allowed 87 earned runs while walking 60 and striking out 180 (which translates to an ERA+ of 101). He’s got three pitches (fastball, curveball, and changeup) that typically get a lot of swings and misses, so don’t be surprised if the Indians rack up some strikeouts against Lester. Lester’s off to a good start this season, throwing 20.1 innings and allowing 7 earned runs while walking 8 and striking out 18 (which translates to an ERA+ of 88). His most recent start came on April 19 against the Cardinals; in that game, Lester went 6.0 innings and allowed zero earned runs on 2 hits while walking 1 and striking out 7.

Bauer continues his march towards ace-like status with each successive start in 2018. His last start came on April 20 against the Orioles; in that game, Bauer went 7.0 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 5 hits while walking 3 and striking out 6.

Players to watch

  • Javier Baez - Baez is suddenly amazing, which is good for baseball as a whole. It’s most definitely petty, but I don’t care about that. According to b-ref, Baez is already worth 1.3 WAR this season, which is thanks in large part to his 15 XBH so far this season (5 doubles, 3 triples, 7 home runs). He’s currently slashing .292/.363/.736 over 80 plate appearances (which translates to a wRC+ of 186). Don’t be surprised if he goes yard more than once, especially since he gets to face Josh “solo home run” Tomlin.
  • Albert Almora - Almora replaced Dexter Fowler as the full-time center fielder after the 2016 season and he’s been okay. He had a very pedestrian year in 2017, but he’s off to a great start in 2018, slashing .327/.377/..510 over 53 plate appearances (which translates to a wRC+ of 145). He’s decent in the field, but his bat is currently hot and he adds depth to an already strong Cubs lineup.
  • Steve Cishek/Brian Duensing/Carl Edwards/Brandon Morrow - The bullpen was a big reason for the Cubs success in 2016. So far this season, they’ve got a rock solid relief corps revolving around these four pitchers. Combined, they have thrown 36.0 innings and have allowed just 4 earned run while walking 17 and striking out 42. This helps tremendously when the two starters who are supposed to be aces, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana, are both off to garbage starts.
  • Not Aroldis Chapman - No matter how these two games go, at least we don’t have to see Chapman’s face.

Storylines

Neutralizing the Cubs offense

The Cubs have one of the best offenses in baseball. They can hit for power, they can run, they can move runners. They can do it all. I’m not so worried about Bauer, I have a feeling he’ll be pitching on a mission since the memory of Game 5 has not been forgotten. I am, however, terrified of Tomlin facing off against this lineup.

Jose Ramirez is on fire, where’s Lindor?

The Angry Hamster has broken out of his “slow start” and is back to being himself. He’s bypassed Michael Brantley as the best hitter on the team (by wRC+, 135 v. 120) and has anchored an otherwise flailing lineup. Francisco Lindor, on the other hand, is still struggling to get going. With two struggling starters facing the Tribe this series, it would be nice for Lindor to have a Ramirez-esque break out.

Don’t focus on 2016

This is more for the fans, announcers, readers of this site, me. Basically everyone not the players. Yes, this series is against the 2016 World Series champions. A couple of things go a bit differently in one of those games and the Cubs are coming to Progressive Field this week with a vendetta. There’s no way to get around the “hey, remember when you guys played each other in one of the most exciting World Series’ ever?” sentiment that’s going to be very prevalent over these next two days, but it’ll be important to remind yourself that these two games are taking place on April 24 and 25 and not November 1 and November 2.

Chicago Cubs roster

FanGraphs

Poll

How many games will the Indians win against the Cubs?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    2
    (59 votes)
  • 45%
    1
    (80 votes)
  • 21%
    0
    (37 votes)
176 votes total Vote Now