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Series Preview: Joe Maddon, Cubs return to Tropicana Field

Toronto Blue Jays v Chicago Cubs Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Former Rays manager Joe Maddon makes his return to Tropicana Field for a two game set. The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs disappointed in the first half with a 43-45 record entering the all-star break. However they have had the second best record in all of baseball since with a record of 40-21. That only trails the Cleveland Indians 46-17 run.

The Matchups:

Tuesday 7:10 PM: Mike Montgomery vs Chris Archer
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Jon Lester vs Blake Snell

Rays face two left handed starters.

The opener will feature a matchup of starters that spent time in the other team’s minor league systems. Mike Montgomery was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays along with Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and Patrick Leonard for James Shields, Wade Davis, and Eliot Johnson from the Kansas City Royals. Montgomery was later dealt to the Seattle Mariners for Erasmo Ramirez. Montgomery has split time between the rotation and the bullpen, making 12 starts and 28 relief appearances. As a starter he has a 4.62 ERA and 4.05 FIP in 60.1 innings. He has a 18.8% strikeout rate and 8.2% walk rate. His last appearance was 2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen against the New York Mets last Thursday. In his last start he allowed four runs in two innings to the Milwaukee Brewers on September 9th.

The Rays have faced off against Jon Lester many times in the past when he was a member of the Boston Red Sox from 2007-2014. Lester has a 4.30 ERA and 4.05 FIP for the year, his worst season since 2012. His 24.3% strikeout rate and 7.9% walk rate are in line with his career rates. The problem has been a significant spike in HR rate to 1.31 HR/9. Only one other time since his first full season in 2008 has his HR/9 rate been above 1.00 (1.10 HR/9 in 2012). In his last start he allowed two runs in six innings against the Mets.

Overall the Cubs bullpen has been a weakness.

Their 3.93 ERA and 4.16 FIP rank 11th and 14th in the majors respectively. Their 25.7% strikeout rate is really good, however their 11.2% walk rate is the highest in the majors.

Former Ray Wade Davis has put up great results which has been the norm for him since moving to the bullpen. He has a 2.05 ERA and 3.35 FIP. His 30.6% strikeout rate is really great, but his 13.0% walk rate is significantly higher than any he’s posted in his career.

At the deadline they came away with former Detroit Tigers closer Justin Wilson, but he’s not put up great results since the trade. In 13.0 innings he’s put up a 6.23 ERA and 3.97 FIP. Most of the problem has been the crazy high 20.6% walk rate. It has been a really small sample, but the initial returns haven’t been good.

Carl Edwards, Jr. (3.28 ERA/3.46 FIP), Pedro Strop (3.06 ERA/3.46 FIP), and Brian Duensing (2.47 ERA/3.26 FIP) have formed a solid back end of the bullpen.

The Cubs offense has heated up in the second half.

In the first half the Cubs offense was pretty mediocre. In their first 88 games they scored 399 runs (4.53 runs per game) by hitting .239/.326/.419 and a 93 wRC+. In their 61 games since the break they have scored 363 runs (5.95 runs per game) while hitting .280/.358/.473 and a 116 wRC+.

For the season the Cubs have had two really great bats in Kris Bryant (144 wRC+) and Anthony Rizzo (140 wRC+).

Willson Contreras (125 wRC+) has been a great bat out of the catcher position. Ian Happ (110 wRC+) has had a good 378 PA start to his career including 22 homers.

Javier Baez (96 wRC+), Addison Russell (90 wRC+), Kyle Schwarber (100 wRC+), Albert Almora (103 wRC+) round out the offense.

The rest of the lineup has been lackluster on the offensive side. Former Rays star Ben Zobrist has had a disappointing second season in Chicago at the plate with a 87 wRC+.

Jason Heyward’s bat has had a minor rebound with a 86 wRC+. Still is a really disappointing start to a 8/$184MM contract.

The symbols of the golden era of Rays baseball return with Joe Maddon and Ben Zobrist.

The Rays had a hell of a run with Maddon and Zobrist playing major roles in the team’s success.

The Durham Bulls play for the AAA National Championship tonight after winning the Governor’s Cup.

The Rays have 12 games remaining. Soon there will be no more Rays baseball and we’ll be wishing for the day for it to return.

I know there are still some that are affected by Hurricane Irma. Overall the area seems to have been spared. Some lives have still been turned upside down and some have suffered major damage. I hope everybody is able to get back to their life as normal in as short a period of time as possible.