Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves

Scott Cunningham

Fresh off of taking two of three games from the Phillies, Atlanta welcomes the Chicago Cubs (2-1) to town for a three-game series that begins Friday night.

Despite Carlos Marmol's best efforts, Chicago comes in after winning two of three on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a closely contested series (scores were 3-1, 0-3, 3-2).

Offense:

Chicago's offense got off to a slow start in Pittsburgh, combining to hit just .121/.192/.209 with a .187 wOBA and a 24 wRC+.

The big names offensively for the Cubs are of course shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Castro hit .283/.323/.430 last season, and recorded three hits and a stolen base during the season opening series against Pittsburgh.

After being acquired from San Diego in a trade, Rizzo hit .285/.342/.463 with a .178 ISO, .349 wOBA, and 116 wRC+ in 87 impressive games for the Cubs in 2012. He hit a home run and drew two walks against the Pirates to start the 2013 season. Soriano clubbed 32 home runs last season en route to a .262/.322/.499 slash line with a .237 ISO, .350 wOBA, and 116 wRC+.

As Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein continue to rebuild the Cubs' roster, Manager Dale Sveum has smartly decided to use platoons in a few positions to try and find as much offense as he can.

In center field, David DeJesus will play against right-handed pitchers, as he's hit .291/.365/.448 against them for his career. With Mike Minor on the mound Friday, we'll likely see Dave Sappelt, a solid defender with impressive minor league numbers who has played sparingly in his three-year major league career.

Moving over to right field, Nate Schierholtz, a career .266/.321/.416 against right-handers, could split time with new offseason acquisition Scott Hairston, who crushes left-handed pitching to the tune of .275/.324/.498.

At third base, Luis Valbuena started the two games against right-handers in Pittsburgh, while Brent Lillibridge moved over from second to play third against Wandy Rodriguez. Alberto Gonzalez could also see some time at second base during the series.

Catcher Welington Castillo, who hit .265/.337/.418 last season, will be behind the dish for the series. He recorded two hits in the season opening series.

Matchups:

Friday April 5th, 7:30 ET


Scott Feldman

#46 / Pitcher / Chicago Cubs

6-7

230

L

R

Feb 07, 1983



Mike Minor

#36 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-3

210

R

L

Dec 26, 1987


Signed in the offseason by the Cubs, Scott Feldman started 21 games last season for the Rangers, and posted a 5.09 ERA, 3.81 FIP, and 3.87 xFIP. He posted career bests in strikeout rate (17.9%) and walk rate (6.0%) last season, while his groundball rate sat at 42.2%. Feldman throws five pitches, but mainly utilizes just four of them. He features a sinker and cutter that both average in the low 90's velocity wise, and also throws a curveball that averages 77 miles per hour and a hard change-up that averages 86 miles per hour.

Feldman uses the sinker as his primary pitcher against right-handed hitters, throwing it 43% of time and in any count. He throws his cutter 28% of the time vs RHH's, slightly more often early in counts than later or with two strikes.When he gets ahead against RHH's, he'll use his curveball more often and also with two strikes. He'll also mix in a rare changeup with two strikes.

Against left-handers, he uses his cutter more, especially when he gets ahead in the count and with two strikes (43% of time). Feldman will throw the sinker 41% of time first pitch against LHH's, but goes away from it when gets ahead in the count. He'll also use the curveball with two strikes about 25% of the time. Both of his off-speed pitches had whiff/swing rates of over 30% last season.

Saturday April 6th, 7:10 ET


Carlos Villanueva

#33 / Pitcher / Chicago Cubs

6-2

230

R

R

Nov 28, 1983



Julio Teheran

#49 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-2

175

R

R

Jan 27, 1991


Another offseason addition, Carlos Villanueva will toe the rubber Saturday against Julio Teheran. Villanueva made 38 appearances last season for Toronto, starting 16 of them. He posted a 4.16 ERA, 4.71 FIP, and 4.09 xFIP. He's primarily a fly ball pitcher, as he had the 12th lowest ground ball percentage last season among pitchers with 125 or more innings at 36.7%.

He struck over 23% of batters faced last year, and sported a walk rate of 8.8%, which was slightly above his career average. Villanueva throws five pitches: a four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball, change-up, and slider. He doesn't throw hard, as his fastball and sinker both averaged just under 90 miles per hour last season. His slider averaged just over 82 miles per hour last season, with his change-up a little slower at just over 81 miles per hour and his curveball at a much slower 74 miles per hour.

Villanueva will throw his four-seam more often against left-handed hitters than right-handed one's (34% to 30%), and will throw it first pitch about 43% of the time regardless of which handed batter is up. With his slider, he throws it more often against right-handed hitters, and in any count. Against left-handers, he'll wait until he's ahead in the count or has two strikes to use it.

When he does get two strikes against either handed hitters, he throws the slider almost 50% of time. Villanueva throws his change-up primarily when the hitter is ahead in the count, to the tune of 40% of the time against RHH's and 45% of the time against LHH's in that situation. His slider had a 41.85 whiff/swing rate on it last season.

Sunday April 7th, 1:35 ET


Jeff Samardzija

#29 / Pitcher / Chicago Cubs

6-5

225

R

R

Jan 23, 1985



Tim Hudson

#15 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-1

175

R

R

Jul 14, 1975


In the series finale, the Braves will face Jeff Samardzija, who is coming off of a fantastic opening day performance that saw him strikeout nine and allow just two hits in eight scoreless innings against Pittsburgh.

Samardzija started 28 games last season for the Cubs, and sported a 3.81 ERA, 3.55 FIP, and 3.39 xFIP in 174 innings. A strikeout pitcher, he posted a career high 25% strikeout rate to go along with a career low walk rate of 7.8%. He also got ground balls at 44.6% rate last season, slightly above his career average.

He throws five pitches: a four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, slider, and a split. He threw a curveball sparingly in 2012, but did not use it in his season opening start. Both his fastball and sinker top 95 miles per hour in average velocity, while the cutter is slightly slower at just over 92 miles per hour. His splitter comes in at just under 87 miles per hour on average, while his slider is his slowest pitch at around 84 miles per hour on average.

Against right-handed hitters, he throws a four-seam 38% of the time first pitch, and a slider 28% of the time in that situation. He utilized his slider 25% of the time overall against right-handers against the Pirates, but did not throw it as much with two strikes. That's where he goes to his splitter, which he threw 24% of the time with two strikes.

Against left-hander hitters, his sinker usage goes way up to 36% of the time (43% first pitch), and he'll throw it often in any count. Samardzija will go to slider and four-seam as well when he's behind or even in the count, while his sinker (33%) and splitter (42%) are his go to pitches with two strikes. In 2012, his splitter had a 45% whiff/swing rate on it and his slider had a whiff/swing rate of 32%.

***All pitch info courtesy of brooksbaseball.net***

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