Whenever the Cubs play the Indians, it sparks a strange sense of nostalgia I can’t quite put my finger on.
The Cubs roll into an abbreviated two-game series against Cleveland (26-21) fresh off a day of rest and ready to head into the stretch run on their way to the playoffs. After a brutal offensive performance for the better part of two games against the Brewers, and really weeks before that, the Cubs inexplicably busted out in the 9th inning Saturday night for a win. They carried that energy into a Sunday no-hitter from Alec Mills en route to a 12-0 drubbing at Wrigley North.
At 28-20, the Cubs are in the driver’s seat in the NL Central with a commanding four-game lead over the Cardinals, who still have six extra games to play thanks to their COVID postponements. Needless to say, at this point in the year with a 99.9% probability of making the playoffs and a 90.8% chance of winning the division, the most important things for the Cubs are staying/getting healthy and having everyone in the lineup right for October.
In this crazy year, neither will be particularly easy. José Quintana and Tyler Chatwood have combined for just five starts and are both currently on the IL. Kris Bryant is dealing with a wrist issue (and maybe a couple other dings) that has crippled his 2020 season and many other regulars need to snap out of extended funks. Willson Contreras has been doing just that of late, slashing a robust .362/.444/.489 in September after an absolutely putrid August. Since August 24, Jason Heyward has slashed .353/.477/.706 with four home runs and is finally silencing critics after a few disappointing offensive campaigns.
Bryant (.200), Anthony Rizzo (.205), Kyle Schwarber (.204), and Javier Báez (.203) are looking at toeing the Mendoza line and have left much to be desired in 2020. Granted, Schwarber and Rizzo are still walking, but none of the four are completely right at the moment. Even Ian Happ, who has been spectacular in a breakout season, has found himself in a rut the past couple weeks, slashing just .114/.244/.143 over his past nine games.
It won’t be easy to turn those numbers around against Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Civale, both of whom have been solid this season despite less than spectacular win/loss records. Opposing them will be Yu Darvish, a frontrunner for the NL Cy Young, and Jon Lester coming off his best start of the season. They’ll have to contend with a Cleveland lineup that isn’t overly daunting, but still capable in outbursts.
Led by Francisco Lindor (7 HR, 20 RBI) and José Ramirez (11 HR, 28 RBI), the Indians have scored just 189 runs this year, fourth worst in MLB. They do have a couple of other boppers in DH Franmil Reyes (.292/.356/.488) and veteran 1B Carlos Santana, who is walking at a 19.2% clip, but it has been a pretty anemic offense otherwise.
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Tuesday, September 15 @ 7:15 CT on Marquee
- Wednesday, September 16 @ 7:15 CT on Marquee
What to Watch For
- Can the Cubs continue to build on the 9th inning comeback and Mills no-no?
- Which core player will break out first? The Cubs desperately need more consistent production from the heart of their lineup and probably could use a shake-up in lineup construction.
- Darvish had a rough first inning and was a tough luck loser against Trevor Bauer and the Reds in his last time out, but still has a chance at the Cy Young. He should be able to dominate the Cleveland lineup.
- Has Lester found his groove after a terrible stretch that had him questioning himself?
- Can Happ break out of his mini slump and re-insert himself into the NL MVP race?
- The bullpen has been fantastic lately and Ross now has options at the back end with Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, and Jeremy Jeffress capable of closing out games.