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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, August 3, 2015 at 7:00 AM

The trade deadline has passed. Now it’s time to get serious! You really got the sense that intensity had picked up across Major League Baseball this past weekend when so many contenders were playing games that mattered in front of boisterous crowds. The game that matters most Monday night is in Pittsburgh, where the Chicago Cubs and the host Pirates square off in a battle of NL Wildcard hopefuls.

Pittsburgh is in the driver’s seat for the first Wildcard spot in the senior circuit. But, it’s not like they have the kind of margin-for-error that would allow them to take the week off! Chicago, San Francisco, and the NY Mets all have very legitimate hopes for that second spot based on their form of the past month…and either (or all) could catch Pittsburgh from behind if the Bucs slumped.

Let’s run the numbers to see if the Cubs can make a statement this week. The pitching rotations line up as well as the Cubs could have hoped…

 

OFFENSE

Chicago Cubs: 3.84 runs per game, .314 on-base, .372 slugging

Pittsburgh: 4.14 runs per game, .317 on-base, .386 slugging

You heard a lot of media types (and too many handicapping types!) talk last week about how horrible the Cubs offense is. Why weren’t they trading for more bats? Well, for one thing…there weren’t a lot of meaningful bats readily available. Secondly, the Cubs aren’t nearly as bad as most are thinking. Wrigley Field has been an extreme pitcher’s park this season. That’s inflicting some ugly season-to-date numbers on Cubs hitters. You can see above that they trail the Bucs across the board…and the Bucs aren’t particularly potent. But, if you look at ROAD ONLY numbers, Pittsburgh pretty much stays the same, while the Cubs soar to 4.46 runs-per-game on .318 and .392 in the other categories. Chicago is actually top five in both on-based and slugging in NL road stats. So, the Cubs offense is good enough to make the playoffs…and won’t likely be outmatched in this series.

 

MONDAY’S PITCHERS

Jon Lester: 3.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.2 K-Rate, 6.3 IP-per-Start

Francisco Liriano: 2.92 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 10.0 K-Rate, 6.3 IP-per-Start

Lester has been in mostly excellent form of late…throwing seven quality starts in his last nine outings…while consistently going at least seven full innings. Unfortunately, he’s been victimized by poor run support all season. So, those stellar stats above have only accounted for a 6-8 won-lost record. Liriano has also been in great form of late. Funny…he’s been getting run support, but too late in games for him to record the personal win! Pittsburgh has won his last six starts, yet his record is just 7-6 for the season. We’re at a point where reaching 15 wins is something worth celebrating like 20 used to be! Should be a pitcher’s duel as both offenses are playing without a day off after traveling. A stroke of luck for the Cubs that they begin this series at the top of the rotation with Lester and Arrieta.

 

TUESDAY’S PITCHERS

Jake Arrieta: 2.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.4 K-Rate, 6.7 IP-per-Start

J.A. Happ: 4.64 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.7 K-Rate, 5.4 IP-per-Start

Eight straight quality starts for Arrieta, who continues to pitch like an ace. Just the latest example of a generic-to-decent American Leaguer coming over to the inferior National League and becoming a staff ace! That’s an important point as we introduce Happ….who was traded from Seattle to Pittsburgh a few days ago in a league switch. His numbers are likely to get better in the inferior NL, where pitchers also bat. Plus, Pittsburgh’s defense is rejuvenating a lot of pitching careers. This acquisition was mostly ignored by the media…but Happ might be a sleeper if he can get his confidence back. Clear edge to Arrieta…but possibly not a cakewalk.

 

WEDNESDAY’S PITCHERS

Dan Haren: 3.42 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 6.2 K-Rate, 6.1 IP-per-Start

Jeff Locke: 4.21 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7.0 K-Rate, 5.7 IP-per-Start

Haren has to be thrilled to be in a pennant race after spending most of 2015 with the Miami Marlins. This will be his first start with the Cubs. Decent numbers above…though it is a “year of the pitcher” so he’s not exactly dominating opponents given the K-rate and IP-per-start numbers. Locke has had only two quality starts in his last seven outings…and is really struggling by the standards of what most Pittsburgh pitchers are doing. He’s not taking advantage of context as much as the others. So, he’s clearly a vulnerable arm in this series finale. Could the Cubs win two of three? Or, even sweep?!

JIM HURLEY has some thoughts about that. Only paying customers will find out what they are! You can purchase each night’s baseball BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours. Be sure to check on early-bird football when you call. The NFL Preseason starts this Sunday.

One more day of baseball this week in the NOTEBOOK until we finish off our college football conference previews with a flourish. That will lead into Sunday’s NFL opener…

Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…Kansas City at Detroit

Wednesday: College Football Preview…Pac 12 North

Thursday: College Football Preview…Pac 12 South

Friday: College Football Preview…Big 12

Next Weekend: NFC North Preview to get you ready for the Hall of Fame Game (Vikings vs. Steelers)

The Cubs could be a big story down the stretch of the 2015 season. The man who wrote the book on sports handicapping will make sure you get all the BIG, JUICY WINNERS. Hook up now with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

 

Be sure to follow:

Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

Vegas-Sports-Masters on twitter @vsmasters

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