The last few weeks of baseball have been reminiscent of the first month of the season. If not for a couple of bad innings from Carl Edwards, Jr. and Hector Rondon, the Cubs would probably have been flawless, but instead, they’ll settle for being 14-2 since the beginning of August. West coast road trips have had a penchant for being difficult on the Cubs, so the upcoming slate of the Rockies, Padres, and Dodgers hold the potential to hinder the winning ways the Cubs have had of late, but then again neither the Rockies nor Padres are particularly intimidating.
This weekend, the Cubs return to Denver for their second series against the Rockies this season. The first went 1-2 in favor of Colorado. The Cubs sit 13 games above St. Louis in the NL Central while the Rockies are looking up at the Giants and Dodgers in the West.
Friday: Kyle Hendricks vs. Tyler Anderson
Maybe it’s just meant to be that a Cubs pitcher will surprise us all and carry the team in the second half. Not that the starting staff really needs carrying, but if it did, Hendricks is certainly up to the task. In his previous start against the Rockies this year, on April 15, Hendricks threw six innings of four run ball but was tagged with the loss. Recently, he has been going deeper in many of his starts, an expression of faith from Joe Maddon in his ability to handle the extra innings. Of the Rockies batters, Carlos Gonzalez, DJ LeMahieu, and Charlie Blackmon have all had success in a decent sample. Hendricks has managed to keep Nolan Arenado to a .250/.308/.250 slash in 12 at bats, and only Gonzalez has a home run against Hendricks.
Anderson generally relies on three pitches, his fastball, change, and cutter. He’s used a handful of the sinker and curve as well, but much more sparingly. His changeup drops 10 mph from his fastball, and unsurprisingly, his best whiff rate comes on that pitch at nearly 21 percent. Anderson distributes his pitches pretty evenly no matter the count or batter handedness, and it’s the trio of the fastball, change, and cutter that comprises his repertoire almost entirely. He does use the sinker and curve slightly more often against left handed hitters, but the difference is still pretty marginal.
Saturday: Mike Montgomery vs. TBD
Montgomery makes his first start for the Cubs and his first since making back to back starts while still with the Seattle Mariners in early July. This is a spot start for Montgomery that provides opportunity for John Lackey to have some extra rest and push his next start into next week. Lackey left his last start with shoulder soreness, and while he contended afterward that he felt fine, a comfortable cushion in the standings allows for the Cubs to play it safe and push back his next outing. Montgomery has a powerful fastball that has averaged nearly 95 mph this season that he compliments with a usually effective curveball. When he’s not using those, his changeup gets a swing and miss rate of 26 percent, but he’s used it just 100 times (9 percent of his pitches) this season.
The Rockies batters will be seeing Montgomery for the first time on Saturday. After spending last season and the first half of this season in Seattle, they have no experience against him, which hopefully translates to enough success for Montgomery to go four or five innings like Trevor Cahill did in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader.
At this point, the Rockies starter for Saturday has not yet been announced, though there’s some speculation in the Denver Post that Jeff Hoffman might make his major league debut. If that’s the case, Hoffman has 124 strikeouts in 118 2/3 innings pitched for Triple-A Albuquerque this season. He’s the second ranked prospect in Colorado’s system and it is believed that he has front end of the rotation potential. His fastball and curve are his best pitches, and he offers a respectable changeup as well. The fastball has been clocked in the upper 90s.
Sunday: Jason Hammel vs. Jorge De La Rosa
Like Hendricks, Jason Hammel has surprised this season, especially in the second half. We’ve come to expect mighty struggles in the months of July, August, and September from Hammel after the past two seasons, but so far that has not been the case whatsoever. He has not given up a run in his last three starts and in his last two, he’s elevated his strikeout rate. Of the Rockies offense, Gerardo Parra has the largest amount of experience against Hammel, and he’s hit well (9 for 25), but not for power. Otherwise, Nick Hundley is 7 for 18 with a home run and three doubles.
De La Rosa, like Anderson, has five pitches but relies most heavily on three of them. In De La Rosa’s case, he uses a fastball, cutter, and splitter. The splitter is his out pitch, as it gets a whiff rate of just over 20 percent. It’s no surprise then that he’s most likely to use it with two strikes after he leads with his fastball in the first pitch of an at bat about half of the time.
What to Watch For:
The rotation is getting a bit of a shakeup and Montgomery’s start on Saturday will be important to follow. Like Cahill on Tuesday, not much more than four or five innings should be expected here, but Montgomery has been solid in his last few outings out of the bullpen. In the last six innings he has pitched, Montgomery has not given up a run. He’s given up five hits in that span, but he’s also struck out ten.
After yesterday’s game, word spread via Pacific Coast League PR rep Matt Grilli that the Cubs had purchased the contracts of two players from Triple-A Iowa. The tweet was later deleted, but it’s believed that Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena are the two players.
This naturally leads to speculation regarding whether someone currently on the 25 man roster is headed to the disabled list, and John Lackey is a possible candidate. His start has already been pushed back to Tuesday, and a retroactive 15 day stint would keep him shelved until September 1 when rosters expand.
Game times and Broadcast Info
The series opens this evening at 7:40 pm CT. The second game of the series is another night game, but tomorrow first pitch comes at 7:10 pm CT. On Sunday, the series finale starts at 3:10 pm CT. The first two games can be seen on CSN, and then Sunday’s game will be on ABC. As always, all three games can be heard on the radio on 670 AM.
Lead photo courtesy Ron Chenoy—USA Today Sports.