With the trade deadline gone, MLB marches towards postseason where each game is more important than the last. So is the case in the three-game series between the NL Central leading Chicago Cubs and NL wildcard leading Arizona Diamondbacks at the iconic Wrigley Field in Chicago (Game 1 today: 8.05pm Tuesday).
This will be the first of two regular season series meetings (the second is August 11-13 in Arizona) between the Cubs and Diamondbacks, who first played this year during spring training. Arizona won two of the three contests, with the third ending in a tie.
Read on for our analysis of the series before we give this preview’s betting picks and predictions.
By the Numbers: Chicago Cubs
The last time USAbetting previewed the Cubs was back in early July when the defending World Series champions found themselves two games back of the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central. Since then however, the all-star break happened and it was almost like a switch was flipped in Chicago.
In the 16 games since all-star weekend, the Cubs have the seventh most runs and hits in baseball, the second most home runs, third most total bases, sixth most RBI, 10th best on base percentage, and sixth best slugging percentage. Compared to where they were about a month ago (16th in runs, 12th in home runs, 17th in RBI, 29th in hits), these numbers are more than welcome improvements.
Home runs were one of the Cubs’ best weapons last year during their World Series winning campaign. Chicago has 28 home runs in just 16 games compared to 117 home runs in 88 games prior to the break. That’s an average of 1.75 post all-star compared to just 1.3 pre all-star. While that may seem like a small difference, looking at how the Cubs have played then vs now, it really isn’t insignificant at all.
Offense hasn’t been the only area that the Cubs have improved. Already with the seventh best ERA in all of baseball, the Cubs boast a 2.98 clip in the 16 games since the break ended. They lead all teams in opponents’ batting average which is just .198. This second half success from the mound has helped Chicago lower its season ERA to under 4 and its batting average against to a MLB-third best .235.
Looking at these improvements, it’s no surprise that Chicago has lost just three games since the unofficial start of the second half of the season, including winning five of their last six to take the division lead back from the Brewers. This is the team that won the World Series last year and if they are finally starting to get hot, the rest of the MLB will officially be put on notice, starting with the Diamondbacks.
By the Numbers: Arizona Diamondbacks
Also no stranger to our previews at USABetting, the last time we wrote about the Diamondbacks was in late June, when Arizona was within just one game of claiming the top spot in the NL West from the Colorado Rockies. Since then however, that division has been flipped on its head by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 29-5 dating back to June 20, when the Rockies/Diamondbacks series was previewed.
The rise of the Dodgers has certainly come at the expense of the Diamondbacks, who now find themselves 14 games back and in a distant second of the NL West crown. Arizona’s only real hope to make the playoffs, barring a major LA collapse, now lies in the wildcard, where about six wins separates them from making the postseason or missing out entirely.
The Dodgers surge certainly hurt Arizona’s chances but the Diamondbacks do own responsibility in slipping off their pace as well. Prior to the break, the team was top 10 in a slew of offensive categories but since then Arizona is only top-10, ranked 9th, in RBI. They rank just 12th in runs, 20th in hits, 14th in total bases, and 20th in batting average.
The offensive fall-off has been noticeable but more importantly, so too has that of the pitching. The Diamondbacks entered the all-star break with the second best ERA (3.41). While they still rank second in that category overall, since the break the Diamondbacks rank just ninth in that category and 11th in batting average against.
Arizona is just 7-9 overall since the all-star break ended on July 14, and has lost two of their last three entering this series with the Cubs.
- Game One – (ARI) Patrick Corbin vs (CHI) Jon Lester: Patrick Corbin is riding a two-game winning streak for Arizona and has come off of the break strong. In his last start against the Atlanta Braves, he surrendered just two runs in six innings. Overall, in his last seven starts, Corbin has one of the better ERAs in baseball, at just 2.81. He’ll be opposed by Jon Lester, who is coming off a win and his third straight quality start. In those starts, Lester has struck out 20 and has an ERA of just 2.05.
- Game Two – (ARI) Zack Godley vs (CHI) Jake Arrieta: A former member of the Cubs’ minor league system, Zack Godley is in the midst of his best season in his now three-year career. The 27-year-old has a 3.06 ERA on the year and is allowing opponents to hit just .199 against him. His counterpart on the mound is Jake Arrieta, who is 3-1 with just a 2.25 ERA in his last three starts. On the season, Arrieta’s ERA is high at 4.03 but like the rest of the Cubs, he seems to be getting hot at the right time. His pitching arsenal could cause real trouble for Arizona’s offense.
- Game Three – (ARI) Zack Greinke vs (CHI) Jose Quintana: A classic lefty/righty duel sees the veteran Zack Greinke pitch opposite the 28-year-old Jose Quintana. Greinke is having a great year as Arizona’s top arm, leading the team with 13 wins and a 2.84 ERA. He’s ranked second in the NL in wins, fifth in strikeouts, 4th in ERA and 3rd in WHIP. Greinke has won each of his last five decisions and has recorded a quality start in four of those five.
Our Preview’s Diamondbacks vs Cubs Picks & Betting Predictions
While the popular American friendly sports betting sites are not offering series prices at the time of writing this preview, if betting straight up on individual games, take the Cubs to win the first and second and the Diamondbacks to take the third off the glove of Greinke.
While the teams and the pitching matchups do seem relatively evenly-matched, Chicago is too hot right now with the long ball, especially at home, to think they won’t be able to win the first two. So they are the pick. They’ll have a shot in the third but sweeps are a hard thing to come by and I do think Arizona has enough, with Greinke on the mound, to avoid losing all three games in the series.