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Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs series preview

After finishing a series with one World Series champ, the Indians take on another.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Hey remember how the Cleveland Indians lost to the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series? You had forgotten? Well, be prepared to be reminded about 547 times over the next two days as the Tribe heads to Wrigley Field for a 2-game set.

Looking ahead

After these next two games in Chicago, the Indians head back to Cleveland for the next week to host the Houston Astros for a 4-game series immediately followed by a 3-game series with the Chicago White Sox. The Cubs, on the other hand, will fly out to California for a weekend series with the San Francisco Giants before heading back to Chicago to host the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 3-game series.

Pitching matchups

Tuesday, May 22 7:05 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) v. Tyler Chatwood (RHP)

When he’s not making crazy behind-the-back catches during batting practice, Trevor Bauer has been dominating on the mound for the Tribe this season. The early results point to the 27-year-old finally clicking on all cylinders as he is in the best season of his career thus far. In 59.0 innings, Bauer has given up just 17 earned runs while walking 21 and striking out 67 (which translates to an ERA+ of 176). His most recent start came on May 16 against the Detroit Tigers; in that game, Bauer went 8.0 innings of shutout ball on 4 hits while walking no one and striking out 10.

Tyler Chatwood has pitched in his first year with the Cubs. He became a free agent this past offseason after spending six seasons with the Colorado Rockies, and the Cubs inked him to a three-year deal last December. He brings with him his ground ball inducing sinker as well as his mid-90s fourseam fastball that often gets hitters to swing and miss. He’s also got an upper-80s slider, so that should be fun. So far this season, Chatwood has pitched in 43.0 innings and has allowed 15 earned runs while walking 34 and striking out 40 (which translates to an ERA+ of 130). His most recent start came on May 16 against the Atlanta Braves; in that game, Chatwood went 5.1 innings and allowed 1 earned run on 4 hits while walking 2 and striking out 2.

Wednesday, May 23 8:05 p.m. ET: Adam Plutko (RHP) v. Jon Lester (LHP)

With Josh Tomlin being sent to the bullpen, the next starter in line to fill his role in the rotation is Adam Plutko. Plutko has spent the majority of his time this year in Columbus, throing 44.0 innings for the Clippers and allowing just 11 earned runs while walking 9 and striking out 35. He made the one spot start for Cleveland earlier in the season during a doubleheader in the middle of a stretch of games with no off days, and he really gave the Tribe some length when they needed it most. On May 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays, Plutko went 7.1 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 6 hits while walking no one and striking out 6.

The 34-year-old Jon Lester continues to hurl it with the best of ‘em as he is currently the best starter on the Cubs staff (by ERA+). In the 50.0 innings he’s thrown this year, Lester has allowed just 14 earned runs while walking 21 and striking out 44 (which translates to an ERA+ of 162). He’s got a pair of pitches (fourseam and cutter) that will generate fly balls, a pair of pitches (change and sinker) that will generate ground ball outs, and a pitch (curve) that will have batters swinging and missing a lot. His most recent start came on May 18 against the Cincinnati Reds; in that game, Lester went 6.0 innings and allowed just 1 earned run on 2 hits while walking 1 and striking out a season high 8 batters.

Players to watch

  • Kris Bryant - Known as much for his amazing eyes (at least on Reddit) as he is for his baseball talent, Bryant has been having a tremendous year once again for the Chicago Cubs. His strikeouts are way down (15.7% v. 23.2% career) while his walks are slightly up (13.0% v. 12.3% career), yet his BABIP of .330 is right around his career average of .345. Bryant isn’t off to a fluke hot start, he’s having his best year yet. Over 185 plate appearances this season, Bryant has a slash line of .305/.427/.583 (which translates to a wRC+ of 172). I’m sure he’s freaking out, man.
  • Albert Almora Jr. - The young center fielder for the Cubs continues to get better with ever season. After playing part time during the past two years, Almora looks to get the bulk of the time in centerfield this season and he’s shown why. In his 136 plate appearances so far in 2018, Almora is slashing .311/.370/.434 (which translates to a wRC+ of 122). One reason for his success is that he’s using the entire field, so defenses can’t really gain any advantage over him in terms of positioning. This is thanks to an increase in his ability to go to the opposite field, which is up to 35.0% over his career average of 28.2%.
  • Brian Duensing - Duensing and Mike Montgomery are the two lefties in Joe Maddon’s bullpen, but Duensing has been the specialist whereas Montgomery has often pitched multiple innings. Duensing has been fantastic this year; in his 14.2 innings of work, he’s allowed just 1 earned run while walking 10 and striking out 11. He’s fantastic no matter who he pitches against, but he’s particularly deadly against LHBs, who collectively have a .378 OPS against him in 2018.
  • Brandon Morrow - The 33-year-old closer for the Cubs was signed in the offseason to a 2-year/$18 million dollar contract (with a $3 million buyout in 2020), and he’s been worth every penny of it thus far. In the 16.0 innings he’s pitched, he’s allowed 2 earned runs while walking 6 and striking out 16. Hitters in 2018 are slashing just .167/.250/.185 against Morrow. It irritates me that the Cubs have acquired a closer who is just as effective as Aroldis Chapman was. Thankfully, there are no indications that Morrow is a garbage human like Chapman.


The Josh Tomlin Bullpen Experience

You may think that Tomlin’s 1.677 WHIP or his 4.4 HR/9 aren’t good attributes to have in the bullpen, and you’d be right. However, the calling card for Tomlin throughout his entire career has been control and the ability to limit base runners, particularly in terms of not walking anyone. If he can regain any sort of his former control, he may be a useful arm out of the ‘pen. It remains to be seen how Tito intends to utilize Tomlin, but my hope is that, at least to begin, it isn’t in any high leverage situations.

The Adam Plutko Rotation Experience

Plutko’s fate is as tied to Tomlin as it is to his own ability. He faced a good Toronto Blue Jays team and was able to hold his own. Now he’ll go up against an arguably better Cubs lineup and will hopefully replicate his previous results. And, because we’re in the silly NL, Plutko may even get a chance to help his own cause with a dinger or three.

Chicago Cubs roster



How many games will the Indians win against the Cubs?

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  • 26%
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    (63 votes)
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    (48 votes)
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