As per the subtitle of this post, the Yankees haven’t been to Wrigley Field since 2003, when they dropped two of three, one of which was one of Roger Clemens‘ multiple failed bids at his 300th victory, along with that unfortunate pickoff of pinch-runner Charles Gipson, who had represented the tying run in the top of the ninth.
Of course, this is a far different Cubs team than the 2003 model, which made it to the National League Championship Series but hasn’t gone that deep into the playoffs since (and hasn’t won a playoff game since going up 3-1 on the Marlins in that series), with their two appearances during that time resulting in sweeps at the hands of the Diamondbacks in 2007 and the Dodgers in 2008. The 2003 model boasted some serious pitching, with a 3rd-best-in-the NL 3.83 ERA (in an offensive era where a 3.83 team ERA in the NL was obviously not terrible) and second-best 3.80 FIP.
However, this year’s Cubs team is bad. The 2011 Cubs rank dead last in the NL in ERA (4.74) and 3rd-to-last in FIP (4.12). While they boast a semi-respectable .315 wOBA, their fielding and baserunning have been poor enough that their offense is dead-last in the National League, having been worth just 4.5 fWAR. The only teams in baseball with less valuable offenses are the Athletics and the Mariners.
And if this weren’t rough enough, the Yankees are actually missing their two best pitchers this weekend in Matt Garza (2.3 fWAR) and Carlos Zambrano (1.4 fWAR), while the pitchers they are seeing are — aside from Ryan Dempster, who appears to have been just a tad unlucky this season — pretty damn bad.
In the first game — which has the unusual start time of 2:10pm, though this is apparently de rigeur in Chicago — the Cubs will send lefty Doug Davis (5.90 ERA/3.51 FIP/4.28 xFIP) to the mound, where he’ll be opposed by Freddy Garcia. Despite the ugly ERA, the peripherals say Davis has pitched reasonably well, with a strong K/9 (8.38), though his walk rate is putrid (5.59). I was shocked to see such a low FIP from Davis with that walk rate, but then I noticed his HR/9 (0.31). It appears that Davis is getting killed by what would be the highest BABIP in the league (.368) if he had enough innings to qualify which has helped lead to an awful 59.7% strand rate.
Additionally, Davis doesn’t have a single above-average pitch, and is primarily a fastball/cutter guy who will occasionally sprinkle in a change or a curve. The bad news on Davis? His fastball averages 84.8mph(!), and the Yankees have periodically had their troubles with lefthanded junkball artists (although as Jay Jaffe recently noted, the idea that the Yankees struggle against finesse pitchers is actually a myth — it just seems like they constantly struggle because the games in which they do get shut down stick further out in our minds — good ol’ confirmation bias).
Garcia has, for the most part, been about as good as anyone could have reasonably expected, and hopefully his offspeed assortment will play well against a weaker-hitting NL lineup.
In the Saturday game (beginning at 4:05pm Eastern), unfortunately being televised by FOX, Ryan Dempster (5.48/4.15/3.31) goes against A.J. Burnett. Dempster also has a shiny strikeout rate (8.48) and actually has a respectable walk rate — his bugaboo appears to be the home run ball (1.34 per nine), which is the 5th-worst rate in the NL. Dempster’s not as bad as his ERA suggests, but he’s also not particularly good, and actually boasts the worst wFB mark in the league (-15.2 runs above average). Given the Yankees’ proclivity for fastballs, not to mention the fact that although Dempster mixes it up with an above-average slider (5.9 wSL) he throws 34% of the time, the Yankees are also the best slider-hitting team in baseball, this would appear to be a pretty terrible matchup on paper for the Cubs.
Burnett’s been quietly effective for the most part this season, and his curveball is back to being one of the best in the league (5.6 wCB, behind only Philip Humber and Justin Verlander). Still, given the rocky path Burnett had trodden for the past year and a half, I’m still not quite back to the point where I feel like A.J. is a lock for a strong outing, but hopefully he can keep it together against Chicago.
And the Sunday evening finale is unfortunately an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast, and features the execrable Randy Wells (5.63 ERA/5.25 FIP/4.65 xFIP) against CC Sabathia. Wells pairs a whatever K/9 (6.75) with a bad walk rate (4.88) and a silly home run rate (1.50), which is a recipe for what would be the worst FIP in the NL had he had enough innings to qualify. Wells somehow has a reasonable BABIP (.288) despite getting only 35% of his outs on the ground. Like Dempster, Wells is also a fastball-slider guy, though his are much slower, with an average FBv of 86.8mph and SLv of 81.5mph. So Wells is a finesse pitcher who walks too many guys and gives up way too many home runs, and has been the very definition of a replacement-level player (0.0 fWAR). I really don’t want to get too giddy here, but it’s hard to see a way that the Yankees don’t win this game, especially with CC Sabathia on the mound.
So there you have it. The Yankees, who took the best wOBA mark in baseball back from the Red Sox, are facing three mediocre pitchers this weekend that they really have no excuse not to pound. I hate calling sweeps, and it’s obviously very possible that the Cubs steal a game given that they are at home and the Yankees have to play lame National League baseball, but, similar to when the Astros came to town a year ago, the Yankees really should be taking all three of these games this weekend.
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