Series Preview: Braves At Cubs

Jonathan Daniel

After a wretched trip to New York, the Braves have an opportunity to end the first half of the 2014 season on a good note with a trip to the Friendly Confines, where Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jake Arrieta are waiting for them.

We've finally reached the halfway point of the season. Man, it's really flown by. Remember when the season started and Aaron Harang nearly no-hit the Brewers? Remember when we all figured that it wouldn't last? Well, we're 3 games away from the All-Star break and Aaron Harang just got finished junkballing the Mets to death and is currently, according fWAR, the 3rd best pitcher in the Braves rotation. Yet Atlanta's still in 1st. Baseball is weird.

"Weird" also describes how the Braves past couple of weeks have gone. After going on a beautiful 9-game winning sreak, the Braves proceeded to lose 4 straight, including 3 in a row to the Mets. Weird is the nice way to put it. Inconsistent is the best word, though. With that being said, the Braves will have a chance to at least go into the All-Star Break on a good note after this trip to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field to face off with the Chicago Cubs.

So, what's new with the Cubs? Well obviously, there's no more Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel, and apparently the Braves have been sniffing around the Cubs' bullpen for lefty help, and one of our writers wants to snatch one of their players for our bench. In the time between the Cubs' annual visit to Turner Field and the Braves' trip to Chicago, the Cubs have basically become a shop window for the rest of baseball, apparently.

That tends to be the case when you're a team that's in the process of rebuilding, and the Cubs have the record of a reubuilding team: They're currently 39-52, and are basically the only team in the NL Central that's completely out of the race. The 4th place Pittsburgh Pirates are 48-44, 3.5 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers. That puts the Cubs 9.5 back of the Pirates and 12.5 behind for the NL Central lead. Yeah, they're done.

Of course, this is absolutely no reason to underestimate the Cubs, and Friday afternoon's starter Jake Arrieta is proof of that. In his past 6 starts, Arrieta has a microscopic ERA of 0.89 and a tiny FIP of 1.38. He's pitching as well as anybody in the National League right now, which means that the Braves will have to be at their best to beat Arrieta today.

The other two starters, Edwin Jackson on Saturday and Travis Wood on Sunday, don't look nearly as imposing. The Braves have already seen Jackson this season and the Braves won that game 5-2, with 3 of those 5 runs coming off of Jackson. Meanwhile, Travis Wood has basically been the anti-Arrieta. Over his past 6 starts, Wood has a 3.86 ERA and a 4.58 FIP.

Meanwhile, the Cubs offense is exactly what everyone figured them to be: 2 All-Stars and a bunch of random dudes. Anthony Rizzo (.277/.386/.506, 145 wRC+ with 20 HRs) and Starlin Castro (.280/.346/.448, 111 wRC+ with 11 HRs) are the 2 best clear players. The aforementioned Luis Valbuena hasn't lagged too far behind, and so did Emilio Bonifacio, but that was before he went down with an oblique strain. Otherwise? The Cubs as a team are hitting .236/.297/.378 with 84 wRC+, which is good for 13th in the NL. However, there is a wild card to watch out for: Travis Wood. No, the Cubs don't have two guys named Travis Wood, I'm talking about the pitcher. He's proven himself to be a capable hitter, and he even has a game-winning pinch hit double under his belt. If Wood is the anti-Arrieta on the mound, then he's the anti-Bartolo Colon in the batter's box.

This lineup could be conducive to a successful weekend for the Braves' pitching staff. Back at Turner Field, Julio Teheran pitched one of the best games of his season so far against the Cubs, and hopefully Teheran will be able to bounce back from a bad showing against the Mets as he prepares for his symbolic trip to Minneapolis for the All-Star Game. Alex Wood has only faced the Cubs this season for 2 innings of relief work over 2 games, but those were scoreless innings, so that's a good sign. Once again, since the Braves met up with the Cubs back in early May, that means that Mike Minor didn't see the Cubs earlier this season. He did face them in 2013 and it went well, but that was way back in the 1st week of the 2013 season. Needless to say, it's been a while.

Offensively for Atlanta, the team is having one of those lean times (as you'd expect for a team who just broke a 4-game losing streak), and they might get even leaner with Arrieta on the mound. As for the past, you might be surprised to see who the two guys were who did the most damage to the Cubs back in early May. Those two guys were Chris Johnson and Ryan Doumit. They gave the Cubs fits back in May, with Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton making cameo production during that series. Hopefully some more names will get involved in the act for the Wrigley series.

Both teams will be coming into this series limping a bit. The Braves have lost 4 of their past 5, and the Cubs broke a 6-game losing streak against the Reds with a win yesterday afternoon. However, one of these teams has developed a reputation for being a "tonic" of sorts for ailing teams, and it isn't the team with the "A" on their hats. Let's see if the Braves are willing to drink the Cubbie Blue tonic this weekend.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Friday, July 11th at 4:05 PM EST

Alex Wood (ATL, 6-7, 3.14 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 81.5% LOB%, 0.9 fWAR)
Vs.
Jake Arrieta (CHC, 5-1, 1.78 ERA, 2.06 FIP, 10.06 K/9, 2.5 fWAR)

Saturday, July 12th at 4:05 PM EST

Mike Minor (ATL, 2-5, 4.54 ERA, 4.53 FIP, 2.68 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR)
Vs.
Edwin Jackson (CHC, 5-9, 5.05 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 3.91 xFIP, 1.1 fWAR)

Sunday, July 13th at 2:20 PM EST

Julio Teheran (ATL, 8-6, 2.57 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 1.95 BB/9, 2.0 fWAR)
Vs.
Travis Wood (CHC, 7-7, 4.64 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 1.0 fWAR)

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