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Series preview: Cleveland at Cubs

Lose both games, I don’t even care, just tell me José Ramírez is healthy

Chicago Cubs v New York Mets Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Is José Ramírez going to play or not? That’s really all I want to know before this series begins, as Cleveland’s All-Star third baseman hasn’t taken the field since being hit by a pitch on Friday night.

Like with all the setbacks they have suffered this year, Cleveland has pressed on without Ramírez and even managed to close the gap on the AL Central-leading White Sox. A big part of that is Chicago losing four straight, but Cleveland is also 7-3 in their last 10 and Franmil Reyes’ return could be on the horizon. Their deficit sits at 2.5 games.

Cleveland will be looking to maintain their fortunes, if we can call them that, against a Cubs team that has stumbled into leading one of the worst divisions in baseball. The Brewers have not hit the way they should, Nolan Arenado wasn’t enough to save the Cardinals, and the Reds are a deep drive to left by Castellanos away from falling below .500. And then there’s the Cubs, just winning enough games to keep hold of the division, making their trade deadline decisions that much more difficult.

To Chicago’s credit, they come into this series responding to a pair of a blowout loss to the Marlins by blanking them, 0-2, to avoid a sweep Sunday. Their pitching is a mess, though, and with Harold Ramirez seemingly on a hot streak and José hopefully returning, there’s a chance we could see some high-scoring totals over the next two days.

This is another National League park, so more caveman rules are in play. Assuming they can get through two innings, Aaron Civale and Eli Morgan will each get at-bats over the next two days.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 40-32
  • Runs Scored: 314
  • Run Differential: +22
  • Last 10: 5-5
  • Slash: .226/.304/.400
  • wOBA: .306
  • wRC+: 94
  • ERA: 3.78
  • SIERA: 4.19
  • K-BB%: 13.5%

Projected starters

Monday, June 21, 8:05 p.m. ET: RHP Adbert Alzolay vs. Aaron Civale
Cleveland scored three runs off Adbert Alzolay in their last meeting in May, but he struck out six and walked none before being pulled ahead of the seventh inning. The 26-year-old has seemingly found how to stay in the zone this year to solve his longest-running issue. He sports a 6.9% walk rate, which would be a career-low over a full season. His big hurdle this year has been getting barreled up too much when batters do make contact on his 94 mph fastball, slider, and changeup.

Alzolay is coming off his worst game of the season in which he walked five and allowed four earned runs in a loss to the Padres.

Tuesday, June 22, 8:05 p.m. ET: RHP Kyle Hendricks vs. Eli Morgan
Kyle Hendricks has been the antithesis of Alzolay. He’s had a rough season overall, with a pair of seven-run starts already on his record, but his last outing was brilliant — six innings, seven strikeouts, and no earned runs against the Mets.

But like Alzolay, he has been hit hard this year, especially compared to his 2020 season — his barrel rate dropped from the 81st percentile last year to the 20th so far this season. I think he, like a lot of pitchers, will soon find that it’s time to move on from the sinker. This year he’s used it 15% more than any other pitch (his changeup), and the results haven’t been great.

Lineup highlights

3B, Kris Bryant - I don’t know how much he’s going to be able to “cash in” as a 30-year-old free agent on the eve of a new CBA, but Kris Bryant is doing his best to prove 2020 was a fluke and he deserves to be paid handsomely into his mid-30s. He’s slashing .279/.360/517 with 13 home runs and a 140 wRC+. He’s not walking as much as he did in his early peak, but he has brought his strikeout rate back down to his career average of 23%.

OF, Joc Pederson - After a slow start to the season, Joc Pederson has found his power stroke lately. In the last two weeks, he has the curious slash of .289/.289/.689 with five home runs. Not a single walk to his name, but eight of his 13 hits have been for extra bases. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not sustainable, but he’s doing the dang thing right now, anyway.


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