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Series Preview: Rays play two afternoon games at Wrigley Field.

Rays face former manager Joe Maddon

MLB: World Series-Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

How can you make July 4th better? It already has fireworks and barbecues. Add afternoon baseball in an iconic stadium. The Tampa Bay Rays play two afternoon games at Wrigley Field. The Rays are 3-3 on their current road trip. The Cubs have lost four of their last six games.

The Cubs have had a disappointing season after winning their first World Series in 108 years last year. They currently sit 41-41 after being expected to be one of the top two or three teams in the majors.

The Matchups:

Tuesday 2:20 PM: Chris Archer vs Jon Lester

Wednesday 2:20 PM: Blake Snell vs John Lackey

Due to the off day yesterday the Rays were able to jump Chris Archer over Blake Snell in order to get Archer an additional start before the all-star break on Sunday.

The Cubs starting rotation hasn’t lived up their 2016 standard

Last season the Cubs starters were among the best in baseball with a 2.96 ERA and 3.76 FIP. Their defense was remarkable leading to a .252 BABIP. However this year the Cubs rotation has put up middle of the pack results with a 4.47 ERA and 4.41 FIP. Their BABIP allowed is up to .292.

Jon Lester has been the most effective starter for the Cubs this season. He has posted a 3.69 ERA and 3.64 FIP. He has posted a very good 24.8% strikeout rate and has a just above average 7.9% walk rate. The lefty has held left handed bats to a bleak .202/.229/.293 line and .225 wOBA. In his last start the high-powered Washington Nationals offense was held to one run in six innings. The Rays haven’t faced off against Lester since his Red Sox days in 2014.

The other former Red Sox in the starting rotation hasn’t had as successful a 2017. Lackey has posted a 5.24 ERA and 5.89 FIP. His strikeouts are down after spiking last year and his walk rate is the highest he’s posted since 2011. Lackey has allowed 24 homers. Left handed bats have teed off at a .266/./342/.561 clip and allowed a .373 wOBA. In his last start he allowed eight runs and three homers to the Nationals.

Former Ray Wade Davis leads the Cubs bullpen

The Cubs traded for Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals after an injury-plagued season for Davis. This year Davis has been just as dominant as he’s ever been since moving to the bullpen full time. He has a 1.93 ERA and 1.79 FIP while picking up 16 saves.

Koji Uehara , Carl Edwards Jr., Brian Duensing, and Pedro Strop join Davis as a formidable back end of the bullpen. All have ERAs below 3.23 and FIPs below 3.64.

The day off yesterday was welcomed for the Cubs bullpen. Uehara, Strop, and Edwards Jr. had pitched the previous two games. It has been five days since Davis has pitched.

The Cubs offense is where they have disappointed the most

Last year the Cubs offense was a juggernaut that scored just under five runs a game (4.98 runs per game) and hit .256/.343/.429 and put up a 106 wRC+. They were one of only two teams to score over 800 runs.

This year has been a different story. They are scoring just over 4.50 runs per game and putting up a .237/.324/.418 and 93 wRC+.

Kris Bryant (135 wRC+) and Anthony Rizzo (132 wRC+) are doing their part to lead the offense. They are joined by an unexpected newcomer in Ian Happ who has put up a 129 wRC+ through 177 plate appearances and has hit 12 homers. Willson Contreras has put up very good offensive (101 wRC+) and defensive production at catcher.

The rest of the offense has been rather disappointing. Kyle Schwarber has been the biggest culprit. Last week he was demoted to AAA after putting up a 78 wRC+ through 261 plate appearances.

Former Ray Ben Zobrist is among those who have struggled to start the year with a 85 wRC+. Addison Russell (83 wRC+), Jason Heyward (88 wRC+), and Javier Baez (87 wRC+) join those who have performed below expectations.

It isn’t only offensively where the Cubs position players have disappointed. Last year they were far away the best defensive team putting up 82 DRS and 73.0 UZR. DRS has the Cubs in third just behind the Rays at 24 DRS, but the Cubs 7.8 UZR ranks tenth.

Happy Fourth of July!

We’re in the home stretch of the first half with just six games remaining until the all-star break. A good finish can set the Rays up to where they can be playing meaningful games throughout the season. The Rays are currently tied for the second wild card.

Hope everybody has an enjoyable July 4th. The Rays will look to do their part providing entertainment this afternoon.