Today will be a bit of a weird occasion. On the top level, I wonder if this will be the last time we see Game 163s between teams that both have qualified for the playoffs. You can see some lobbying going on for that at the Winter Meetings or something. You could see making head-to-head records a tiebreaker in that case. But that’s for another time.
It’s also quite possible that this is just the first of four to six more games between the two teams. Which means the Cubs and Brewers have the potential of playing 25 times this year. The loser gets to see either a Rockies team that won’t get to call upon Kyle Freeland or Germán Márquez or a Dodgers team that won’t have Clayton Kershaw (at least not starting). Not that either the Brewers or the Cubs would be a lock in a coin-flip game, but the Cubs and Brewers could easily be doing this dance again on Thursday on either end of I-94.
It’s always silly to try and really preview one baseball game. Anything can happen. José Quintana could have nothing. A fly ball could get lost in the sun in the second inning. It’s not football. We know baseball is going to baseball on you.
Still, you can see how each team wants this to go. The Brewers are going to want to throw Josh Hader, Joakim Soria, and Jeremy Jeffress for at least four of the nine innings, possibly five, and that’s if Jhoulys Chacín starts or not. They want a lead in order to employ that strategy.
Which puts Craig Counsell in something of a bind if they don’t get that lead. Does he go to the big guns with another postseason chance looming the next day? Does he save them for that? Those are questions the Cubs will be hoping to ask.
Getting that lead is something of a trick, given before the Cubs even get to bat they’re going to have to negotiate Lorenzo Cain, who they haven’t retired since May, and Christian Yelich who has 45 homers this week. At this point you wonder if Yelich isn’t going to get the Barry Bonds treatment, and just walk him every time. The Cubs will certainly take that approach if he comes up later in the game with any sort of runner on. There’s just no point.
Of course, Yelich isn’t the only one who’s on fire lately. Ryan Braun has six homers in September and a 124 wRC+. Travis Shaw wasn’t much worse at 122. Curtis Granderson has been cumbersome for the Cubs seemingly since time began, though he won’t start with Quintana on the mound. Jesús Aguilar homered today. This lineup isn’t as top-heavy as it once was.
If it is Chacín [EDITOR’S NOTE: It is.], I refuse to believe the Cubs can’t get to him. His numbers look good this year, but he’s striking out the same amount of hitters, walking the same amount, and giving up even harder contact than he did when he was kindling. He’s even getting fewer groundballs. Basically, his .256 BABIP explains a lot.
But he’s been a mystery to the Cubs this year. In two starts he gave up one earned run over 12 combined innings. It feels like any pitcher who features a slider as much as Chacín does (43% of the time) gives the Cubs fits, but that’s probably just in my mind. Lefties hit Chacín far better, to the tune of a .341 wOBA and they have a hard-contact rate of nearly 40%. So expect Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, and Ben Zobrist to be in the outfield. You could see Jason Heyward replace Happ in center or Happ moving to left to replace Schwarber. Victor Caratini will also likely start, as he’s become something of Q’s personal catcher. And he happens to hit left-handed.
Ab0ut the only change for the Brewers could see Hernán Pérez inserted into the infield somewhere. The outfield stays the same no matter what. And they’re obviously the problem.
When Cubs ‘pen gets in the game is when everyone is going to head to their bomb shelters. Steve Cishek only faced two hitters on Sunday, Jesse Chávez wasn’t used, and neither was Justin Wilson. I honestly don’t know who else the Cubs would trust beyond that. Carl Edwards Jr. blew his audition. Honestly, the Cubs are going to really want Q to go six or seven innings and they can just ask everyone out of the pen to get one or two outs.
So that’s the game board. The Cubs could desperately use the two off days that would come with a win, though at this point having played so many straight days I’m not sure anything short of a week is going to make a difference. It also doesn’t put your season to the whims of just nine innings. The Cubs are tired. The ‘pen is a mess. Q has has problems with efficiency. It’s dark, and we’re wearin’ sunglasses.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports