Game 1: Wednesday, 1:08 CST, Alcantara vs Hendricks - ABC, 670 The Score
Game 2: Thursday, 1:08 CST, Sanchez vs Darvish - ESPN, 670 The Score
Game 3: Friday, 1:08 CST, Lopez vs Lester (if necessary) - ESPN, 670 The Score
I hope you like and have the ability to watch afternoon baseball. This is some pretty weird scheduling by MLB, but perhaps they figure Cubs fans are used to 1 o'clock starts and will be able to tune in.
I'll be honest, I had to pull up the Marlins baseball-reference page to write this due to only vague knowledge of the moves they've made this year. In part, this is due to the fact the Marlins were not supposed to be a playoff contender this season, so I hadn't done much preseason research on them. But another aspect is the nature of this year's geographically aligned schedule. The two teams are facing off against each other for the first time this season, which is usually when I do a refresher of my research on other teams.
That said, just because the Marlins were not expected to be here doesn't mean they can be taken lightly. They finished above .500, and they have good enough starting pitching to pose a challenge for any opponent. They do have flaws, however. Many of the same as the Cubs in fact, but to a greater degree.
The Marlins struggle with the bat in their hands even more so than the Cubs. They were shutout a league-leading 7 times. They lack power, averaging just one HR per game. The Cubs pitching, especially Hendricks and Darvish, should be able to control them. And while the Marlins do possess plenty of speed in their lineup, they may not be tempted to test the arm of Willson Contreras in Game 1. With Vic behind the plate in Game 2 the story may be different, but hopefully Darvish can simply keep them off the bases.
Where things could get really interesting is Game 3. The Marlins feature a righty-heavy lineup, with Corey Dickerson and Matt Joyce as the only left-handed regulars. This means that the majority of the limited production they typically muster comes against lefties. If the series stretches to Friday, I would expect Jon Lester to be on a short leash. With the way Adbert Alzolay pitched down the stretch the Cubs could turn to him early. This could be important because Marlins rookie Sixto Sanchez is lined up for Game 3. He's got a big fastball, but it is his changeup that can be devestating to opposing hitters. The changeup has been a particular thorn in the Cubs side for years, so I do not think that matchup is favorable for the Cubs. Rookies can choke, and you hope Lester can rise to the occasion, but its better if they can wrap things up in two.
The Marlins bullpen is vulnerable. To paint you a picture, Brandon Kintzler is their closer. That isn't much different than Jeremy Jeffress, but what the Marlins don't have is a Craig Kimbrel. So, even if they can get ahead early, the Cubs can't be counted out in any game. It may be the key to series in my eye. Neither team figures to score much when the starters are on the mound, so whichever offense can exploit the opposing bullpen the best figures to win. I wouldn't stack up the Cubs pen against many contenders, but against the Marlins? I'll bet on Craig Kimbrel punching guys out in the 7th or 8th over the less overpowering options the Marlins have in setup roles. James Hoyt is really their only reliever capable of missing bats, but he is more on a level with a Ryan Tepera than Kimbrel.
Of course, this can all be rendered moot if the Cubs big bats are awake for this series. At their best, the Cubs can still outslug just about any team. With the Marlins sending three right-handed starters to the mound, some combo of Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward need to come through. Hopefully, the final series against the White Sox offered a true wakeup call. At least for two days Kris Bryant looked like Kris Bryant. If there is carryover, this series heavily favors the Cubs. If the Cubs offense goes into hibernation again... the Cubs will only move on if Hendricks and Darvish carry them through.
Filed under: Series Preview