This is a weird feeling. Not the Cubs being bad. No, that’s the natural order. Completely normal. No, what’s weird is... how unfamiliar I am with the Cubs’ roster. I feel like we’re facing an American League team. I’m relatively knowledgeable about rosters, so I’m never completely blind, but for bad AL teams, there’s usually a starting position player or two who I’ve never heard of, definitely at least one starting pitcher, and there’s like four guys in the bullpen who I have heard of but had no idea they signed there.
According to Roster Resource on Fangraphs, the Cubs currently have two players in their starting lineup who I have quite literally never heard of. Their starting centerfielder is apparently someone named Christopher Morel, who has a 135 wRC+ through his first 15 games. He is not considered one of their top ten prospects by Fangraphs. They also have Anthony Rizzo’s replacement, Alfonso Rivas, who has a 78 wRC+ through 35 games. He was their 43rd ranked prospect by Fangraph. Yes, 43rd.
Then there is the player I wouldn’t know were I not a Cardinals fan, like Patrick Wisdom - still doing his thing striking out 40% of the time and somehow being an above average hitter. I think Frank Schwindel made national headlines, but he has a 79 wRC+ through 188 PAs, so he’s come back to earth. And he was in the Cardinals minor league system for two years, but now-31-year-old Rafael Ortega is still doing his thing, hitting for a 100 wRC+.
In “Wait, he’s on the Cubs?” get ready because this is a long list. We all know about high-priced free agents Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki, plus picking up the tab for Wade Miley on the Reds. But unless you’ve watched a single Cubs game this year - and I confess I have not - I would be surprised if you knew they acquired David Robertson, Mychal Givens, Daniel Norris, Drew Smyly, Yan Gomes, Jonathan Villar, Chris Martin, Andrelton Simmons and Sean Newcomb. I am extremely familiar with all these players, no clue they went to the Cubs. You won’t see a lot of these names this weekend though: Suzuki, Miley, Gomes, Villar, Smyly, and Newcomb are all on the injured list. Martin is on the bereavement list, but we’ll probably see him at some point.
Thursday - 7:05 CT
Keegan Thompson (1.58 ERA/3.49 FIP/3.75 xFIP) vs. Matthew Liberatore (3.72 ERA/4.18 FIP/4.88 xFIP)
Thompson’s numbers are impressive, but he hasn’t been in the rotation all year. He’s made only three starts. But he’s pitched 40 innings because in every appearance, he’s faced at least 10 batters. His 2021 and 2022 is an great example of why K% is superior to K/9. Last year, Thompson had a 9.28 K/9 and this year he has a 7.88 K/9. But he has the same K% as last year. Because last year, he walked 12.8% of batters, this year just 7.8%. Thompson in his current form gets over 50% groundballs. It’d be somewhat unusual for a 27-year-old to suddenly be a good pitcher, but so far, he has been.
The Cubs do not have a lot of lefties. Rivas and Jason Heyward are the only lefties in their starting lineup and they may very well be replaced by right-handed batters Frazier and Andrelton Simmons. So Liberatore, whose weaknesses was reportedly against right-handed batters, has something of a test.
My pick - Cardinals
Friday - 1:20 PM
Marcus Stroman (3.95 ERA/3.65 FIP/3.48 xFIP) vs. Miles Mikolas (2.67 ERA/3.40 FIP/3.82 xFIP)
The Cardinals have faced Stroman three times. They faced him in his seventh career start back in 2014 - he pitched 6 innings of 1 run ball with 7 Ks - and then not again until last year, when he was with the Mets. He pitched pretty good in both starts, allowing two earned runs in each. Though in the first he only lasted five and also allowed two unearned runs. I point this out because Stroman is pitching pretty much the same as his standard and there’s nothing new to add.
We’ll see if Mikolas has any ill aftereffects of throwing 115 pitches in a game - not 115 easy pitches either like Adam Wainwright did recently. I say this because I feel like the next start is affected in these games. I could be wrong. Maybe he’ll pitch amazing. He’s facing a good opponent to get back on track.
My pick: Cardinals
Saturday (Game 1) - 12:20 PM
Matt Swarmer (1.50 ERA/5.97 FIP/3.76 xFIP) vs. Packy Naughton (3.09 ERA/3.57 FIP/2.43 xFIP)
I actually have no idea who is starting either of these games. ESPN lists Swarmer as starting in Game 1. You might be wondering “who the hell is that?” - I’ll tell you. A 28-year-old drafted by the Cubs who finally made his MLB debut last Friday. It was a good debut. But this is not typically the route for a good MLB starter, so I hope the Cards ruin his stats a little.
And whether or not Packy Naughton starts Game 1 or Game 2, I’d be surprised if he started neither. Just because it’s his turn and it’d go a long way towards explaining why he got the start Monday. He also pitched well enough to try it again, though given it’s a doubleheader, he may be expected to actually be a starter and not just go first time through the order. So we’ll see.
My pick: Cardinals.
Saturday (Game 2) - 6:15 PM
Daniel Norris (5.82 ERA/5.67 FIP/3.61 xFIP) vs. Andre Pallante (1.07 ERA/3.42 FIP/3.68 xFIP)
So both of these are what you would call educated guesses. Unless they add someone to the 40 man roster for Saturday, they have nobody to start the second game. They have two starters on the 40 man in the minors - one has yet to pitch this season and the other last pitched in early May. Daniel Norris threw 42 pitches on Monday in a losing effort, so they seemed to have geared him up to start on Saturday. Probably won’t last 5, but might throw 60-70 pitches.
The same goes for Pallante. The Cardinals seemed to have prepared well ahead of time, as Pallante pitched three innings and 44 pitches on May 26th. Four days later, he threw 53 pitches. On Saturday, he’ll be on four days rest - a normal starter’s rest - so it would stand to reason, he’s going to start one of the two games. Should probably be able to throw up to 70 pitches in fact. Saturday is going to be very interesting for both teams.
My pick: Cards
Sunday - 6:00 PM
Justin Steele (5.40 ERA/3.22 FIP/3.80 xFIP) vs. Adam Wainwright (2.75 ERA/3.63 FIP/3.90 xFIP)
If Steele were right-handed, I might caution to ignore his ERA and expect a better pitched game than you’d think. And that might still be true. But he’s left-handed and him pitching better than you’d think doesn’t really mean much. He allowed six earned runs in 5 innings of work last year - in a doubleheader I believe.
The Cardinals do have an off-day on Monday thankfully, but Wainwright might still be expected to shoulder a lot of innings - and throw a lot of pitches - a start after he threw 115 pitches. Honestly Mikolas has the most important start of the series - he’s going to need to figure out a way to throw innings - but Wainwright might not have much of a bullpen to work with.
My pick: Cardinals
Oh wow a five-game sweep? Do you really think the Cardinals will do that, Gabe? Listen voice in my head, the thing is my fingers are not letting me pick the Cubs. I start off good. I type C. And then I’m like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar trying desperately to say his pen is red. My fingers understand it is important to have dignity. Some things are more important than my prediction stats.
Individual Game Prediction: 12-12
Series prediction: 4-3