This is the second leg of a three part road trip out west, and the hardest part of the trip is probably the series that comes after this one. The Cubs and Padres last faced each other in the second week of May at Wrigley, and it proved to be a surprisingly challenging series for the Cubs. After a rainout postponed the first game of the series on May 9, the Cubs won the following evening only to drop both games of the doubleheader the next day.
This time, the Cubs are sitting high above the rest of their division, and the Padres haven’t realistically been competitive in the NL West and they are currently wrestling with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the bottom spot in that division.
Chicago sends its three best starters to the mound in this series, and San Diego’s pitching staff looks quite a bit different with Andrew Cashner now in Miami and Colin Rea out for the season as he attempts to avoid Tommy John surgery for elbow issues that crept up just after he was traded to the Marlins only to be returned as damaged goods.
Monday: Jon Lester vs. Edwin Jackson
Lester went a strong 6 2/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in his last start, striking out seven and giving up just three hits and one run. He’s thrown a quality start in each of his last four trips to the mound, and he did the same when he faced the Padres on May 10 of this season. For the Padres, Alexei Ramirez is the most familiar with Lester, having gone to the plate against him 42 times. In those appearances, he’s 10-for-39 with four doubles and eight strikeouts and has an OPS of .668. The bulk of these at bats have come while both players were still in the American League, but in the last two seasons, he’s reached base three times in five plate appearances. Derek Norris is a paltry 3-for-13, but he does have a home run in those three hits. So does Wil Myers, who is 2-for -2 overall. Yangervis Solarte has yet to manage a hit against Lester—he’s 0-for-11 with four strikeouts—but the two did not face each other during the earlier series this season.
Jackson is a familiar name to Cubs fans, having spent two-and-a-half seasons in Chicago. In all, Jackson has found a landing spot in every corner of the league, and while his career has been one of only sparse success, he’s made himself useful enough to stick around for 14 seasons. He has six pitches at his disposal, though it’s generally his fastball, slider, and cutter that get the most usage. His fastball has dropped off in average velocity some just a tick, but he’s been getting similar swing and miss rates with it to what he’s had throughout much of his career. His strongest pitch is the slider. It’s moving differently than it has in years past, and the whiff rate sits at just above 17 percent, which is a significant drop from years past. Monday might mark an opportune time for Jason Heyward to make his return to the lineup, as he’s posted a career OPS of .825 against Jackson, including a home run and a double. It’s Miguel Montero, however, who has the largest degree of success against Jackson in the past. He’s 6 for 15 with two doubles, a triple, and a home run.
Tuesday: Jake Arrieta vs. Christian Friedrich
Arrieta looked a little wobbly in his most recent start, walking a career high seven batters against the Brewers last Thursday. This was his first start with Willson Contreras as his catcher, and while he looked polished through the first three innings, his command slipped mightily after that. This can’t necessarily be attributed to Contreras being behind the plate, but it will be interesting to see if Joe Maddon decides that a return to familiarity might be a good thing for Arrieta and go with Montero as his catcher. Arrieta didn’t face the Padres during the series in May of this year, and only Alexei Ramirez has any notable hitting experience against him. He’s done well, going 6-for-16 with a double in his career.
Friedrich, a native of the near north Chicago suburbs, is mostly unknown to Cubs batters. He did not pitch in the series at Wrigley in May, and no one in the Cubs lineup has faced him more than twice when he was being used out of the bullpen while with the Rockies in 2015. This season, the Padres gave him four starts in High-A Lake Elsinore and Triple-A El Paso to stretch out as a starting pitcher, and he’s gone on to start 17 games for the Padres this year. Friedrich uses a mixture of his fastball, curve, sinker, and slider. He throws a cutter and a changeup as well, but both of those pitches are used infrequently. He’s most likely to use his fastball first in an at bat, and goes after lefties with his slider, which gets a nearly 23 percent whiff rate.
Wednesday: Kyle Hendricks vs. Paul Clemens
The de facto third starter for the Cubs has only continued his quiet brilliance. He threw yet another quality start against the Rockies in Denver on Friday in what ultimately proved to be a strange extra innings loss, but for his part, he gave up just one run on a fluky home run to David Dahl. When he faced the Padres on May 11, he threw—you guessed it—a quality start, going six and two thirds and striking out eight while walking just one. No Padres batter has even an extra base hit against Hendricks, going 6-for-35 against him collectively and amassing a slash line of .171/.216/.171 against him.
Clemens has overcome some back soreness and seems to have found his strongest pitch, a curveball that opposing batters are hitting just .105 against. Clemens came to San Diego in the trade with the Marlins, but he is probably best known for needing to wear a generic jersey earlier this month because of pine tar on his uniform. The aforementioned curveball has come into heavy use just in the last four or five starts for Clemens, as he’s decreased use of his fastball in favor of it. This is working for him, as his fastball is a very hittable pitch otherwise, to the tune of .317 for opposing hitters. He’ll need the curveball to work against the Cubs batters because his rarely used third pitch, a changeup, has not proven useful for getting outs this season.
What to Watch For:
Jason Heyward makes his return. The hope is that by giving him the past series off can function as a reset for him and help him turn things around at the plate. While he has supplied a great deal of value on defense, the production with his bat has fallen far behind even the most modest expectations. This somewhat mirrors the benching of Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh earlier this month, and so far it seems to have benefited McCutchen. Whether something similar happens with Heyward will remain a question mark for at least this series.
The configuration of the bullpen has been seismically altered with the absence now of both Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. The newly called up arms of Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena will be tested, and relievers like Carl Edwards, Jr. and Justin Grimm have already been called upon to fill in the roles left open by Strop and Rondon’s absence. This leaves the 7th and 8th innings far more vulnerable than they have been, and the Cubs may put some games on the line or even lose a few as a result.
Game times, Broadcast Info, etc.
The first two games of the series, tonight and tomorrow night, have 9:10 pm CT starts and both can be found on CSN. The finale on Wednesday afternoon starts at 2:40 and will be aired on WGN. All three games are also available on the radio on 670 AM. The Cubs have an off day in California on Thursday before then beginning their weekend series in Los Angeles with the Dodgers.
Lead photo courtesy Jake Roth—USA Today Sports.