Not every hit of Javier Baez’s career against the Giants has been world-shattering, but he’s had at least 4 big ones, starting with the solo home run off of Johnny Cueto in Game 1 of the NLDS in 2016. And wouldn’t you know, he’s having the best season of his career, slugging .565 in 335 plate appearances and being the Cubs’ team leader by fWAR with 3.1.
He’s stolen home four times in his career: the NLCS in 2016, last August against the Pirates, last month against the Mets (which you can read about in more detail here), and last week against the Tigers. He’s got quite a growing list of cool baseball accomplishments and if he was on the Giants, he’d be one of our favorite players. But instead, he’s more than a thorn in their side, he’s a herniated disc that incapacitates the Giants at every opportunity.
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The Cubs overall lead FanGraphs’ fWAR with 19.8. The Giants are 18th with 9.1. But just by the simple stuff, they’re the top-scoring offense in the National League (3rd overall in MLB) with 446 runs (Giants are 21st at 380). They’re just 1.5 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central now, after being 4.5 games back when the Giants played at Wrigley in May. That’s run because they had a 6-11 run midway through June but started and ended the month strong, going on an 8-1 run since that rough stretch (which included a 4-game sweep against the Reds in Cincinnati).
Ever since they’ve completed their rebuild, the Giants have been no match for the Cubs, so it’ll come down to the great equalizer that’s been AT&T Park. The Giants have won 2 out of 3 against the Cubs at AT&T Park in each of the last 4 seasons and are 33-29 at home against them in the AT&T Park era (playoffs excluded). The Cubs have a .799 OPS at home and .757 at home, so the advantage is that the park hinders their greatness just a bit.
Hitter to watch: Wilson Contreras ousted Buster Posey from the starting lineup of the All-Star Game and that’s mainly because he’s crushing the ball, framing pitches, and playing amazing defense. He’s also 4th on the Cubs with a .362 wOBA. There’s a very good chance will see plenty of reasons why Posey lost to him in the voting.
Pitcher to watch: Mike Montgomery had been in the bullpen for most of the season (indeed, most of his Cubs career), but he was recently converted and will be making his 9th start of the season. He’s done well in that role. 32 strikeouts against 14 walks in 45.2 innings pitched with an ERA of 2.76. He’ll be the second lefty consecutive lefty in the series for the Giants, and lefties have been their foil all year long.
Prediction: The Giants need to win 2 out of 3 to keep their fading playoff hopes alive but they’ve demonstrated they’re not really better than a .500 team. A 3-3 record over these last 6 games before the All-Star break, will put them at 50-48. Can’t have that. So, the only way to make 49-49 happen is for them to lose 2 out of 3. Or be swept. Which seems unlikely, so, that’s why I’m sticking with 1 win. Which, hey, isn’t bad, because these are the Cubs.