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The Cubs have slowed after a fast start

They’re about where the Giants are on the rebuild timeline, but they don’t seem to be headed in the same direction.

Tampa Bay Rays v. Chicago Cubs Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I know it’s unpopular to say the San Francisco Giants have been in a rebuild since Farhan Zaidi took over, and it’s 100% because of 2021, but for the purposes of this post, they are still in a rebuild. So, too, are this weekend’s opponent, the Chicago Cubs, and like the Giants, the Cubs are just about to exit The Rebuild Zone.

The results, though, could not be more different. The Cubs managed to grab Dansby Swanson off the free agent market during all the Correa noise and they certainly had all the national media sweetheart press, too, given its central and east-bias, but since a season-best record of 11-6, they’re 15-30. The Giants are 26-19.

If you adjust their numbers to since May 1st, the differences between the two teams becomes even more stark. The Giants have had the 4th-best pitching in the sport (4.5 fWAR), while the Cubs are 18th-best (3.0 fWAR). The Giants’ lineup checks in at #9 (5.1 fWAR) while the Cubs at #29 (1.3 fWAR).

Yes, that’s right: since May 1st, the Cubs’ lineup has been worse than the A’s; and, if you want to get technical about it, they’re tied either for 29th or last with Cleveland, which also has 1.3 fWAR in value. Since WAR factors in defense, I’ll distill it down even more: their team wRC+ of 83 is also tied with Cleveland, but for 29th. The Brewers’ 82 wRC+ is the worst in MLB (Oakland’s 87 is ahead of the Pirates, Tigers, Cubs, Guardians, Brewers). The Giants are 13th with 102.

This is the stuff I look at now before letting any feelings creep into my analysis, and I hope you’ve come along on this journey with me so that we can arrive at the same conclusion: the Giants should be able to win this series against the Cubs.

Now, that’s not how Baseball works! Which sucks! Because the Giants are — on paper — a better team. Sort of in every way are they better, in fact; but, that’s just not how Baseball works. Part of the point of these series previews is to present all the ways the opposition could beat the Giants, and when I look at their poor-performing lineup — their best hitter, Cody Bellinger (122 wRC+), has just started a rehab assignment — I see a group that has hit better on the road (.737 OPS) than home (.713) despite an 11-20 road record.

Their road ERA of 4.50 is 8th-worst in the NL (18th-best overall in MLB), but their starting rotation is led by Justin Steele’s 2.0 fWAR, tied with Spencer Strider and Clayton Kershaw for #9 and Marcus Stroman’s 1.6 fWAR, which makes him the 18th-most valuable pitcher in baseball right now, tied with Logan Webb and ahead of Alex Cobb (1.5). And when you break it all down, the differences between the rebuild becomes pretty clear: the Cubs are top heavy, the Giants are balanced.

Just to give you an idea: the Giants have eight 1+-win players (I’m counting Mike Yastrzemski’s 0.9 fWAR as 1). The Cubs also have eight (I’m counting Seiya Suzuki’s 0.9 fWAR as 1). The Cubs have given 662 plate appearances to 8 players who have combined for -2.5 fWAR and 109 innings to 6 players who’ve combined for -1.0 fWAR. The Giants have received -1.0 fWAR from 6 hitters (257 PA) and -0.9 fWAR in 93 IP from 4 pitchers.

The Cubs have a little more talent clustered towards the top of their rotation and the Giants have a more balanced offense. I’m sure the Cubs want to be where the Giants are at in terms of the 26-man roster, and I’m sure the Giants would love to be where the Cubs are at just in terms of having some really great players at the top of their depth chart, too. The fairest thing to say is that the Giants have been better at finding players who fit their system and the Cubs have been better at finding the more talented players.

Still, when I look at the Cubs lineup — Bellinger excepted — I’m not sure that beyond Dansby Swanson, the Cubs have it much better than the Giants. Ian Happ, Seiya Suzuki, Yan Gomes, and Christopher Morel are all nice players, but the Giants have LaMonte Wade Jr., Joc Pederson, Michael Conforto, Thairo Estrada, J.D. Davis, and (theoretically) Mitch Haniger, who are at least as good but probably a bit better as a group, and that’s without even mentioning Yastrzemski, Slater, Schmitt, and Bailey.

The Giants have a better lineup. I hope that’s enough this weekend, because all things being equal, the Giants pitching should be able to keep those bats shut down...

... he said, stupidly, provoking the Baseball Gods...


Where they stand


Record: 26-36, 4th in NL Central
Run differential: -8, 8th in NL
Postseason standing: 6.5 games back in the NL Wild Card, 7.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 4-game losing streak; 4-6 in their last 10 games


Record: 32-30, 3rd in NL West
Run differential: +10, 5th in the NL
Postseason standing: 0.5 games back in the NL Wild Card, 5.0 games out of the division
Momentum: 3-game winning streak; 5-5 in their last 10 games


Series details

Who: San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs
Where: Oracle Park, San Francisco, California
When: Friday (7:15pm PT), Saturday (4:35pm PT), Sunday (1:05pm PT)
National broadcasts: Fox TV (Saturday), MLB Network simulcast (Sunday)

Projected starters:

Friday: Anthony DeSclafani vs. Marcus Stroman
Saturday: TBD vs. Kyle Hendricks
Sunday: TBD vs. Hayden Wesneski


Cubs to watch

Mike Tauchman: What a run it’s been for Mike Tauchman. Traded by the Yankees for Wandy Peralta, robs Albert Pujols of a home run that effectively clinched the NL West for the Giants in 2021, hit his first grand slam, then he was cut by the Giants, signed a 1-year deal with the Hanwha Eagles in the KBO where he went on to his .289/.366/.430, then he latched on to the Cubs but didn’t make the team out of Spring Training, only to be added on May 19 after Cody Bellinger hit the IL. In 18 games so far, he’s hitting .283/.424/.304 with 11 walks against 14 strikeouts in 60 PA. The walk rate is really something, to be sure, but I think the Giants will be okay if they can locate their non-fastball pitches.

Statcast’s breakdown of his success is pretty telling: he’s seen a fastball of some kind (2-seam, 4-seam, cutter) 61.2% of the time, and he has a wOBA of .501 (.476 batting average). Against breaking balls (slider, curveball) it’s 22.8% of the time and he has a .125 BA (.147 wOBA). Changeups, just 40 times (16%) and he’s batting .111. Sure, it’s easy to say, “Don’t throw this guy a fastball,” and that’s what I’m saying.

Marcus Stroman: I have a soft spot for Stroman because we’re the same height, but something he’s done that I will never do is have a career 2.37 ERA at Oracle Park. Oh sure, it’s just from 3 games (19 IP), but this seems like a park built just for him. Enough of the Giants’ lineup — particularly Joc Pederson — has had hits off of him that I’d like to think they’ll be okay, but he’s really been on a role. In his last 4 starts (29 IP), he’s 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA (3.21 FIP) 0.69 WHIP and just 1 home run allowed.

Kyle Hendricks: He’s 1-2 with a 2.64 ERA in 5 starts (30.2 IP) at Oracle Park, and while LaMonte Wade Jr. and Michael Conforto will look forward to seeing him, the rest of the lineup might struggle. The first two games in this series will be a struggle because both pitchers are going to require hitters to expend a lot of mental energy to stay in their at bats — that could prove to be their undoing unless either guy has an off night.

Ian Happ: His career line against the Giants is abysmal (.188/.283/.338 in 92 PA) and at Oracle Park, it’s been even a little worse (.200/.250/.275), but this morning, I caught this post by Matt Trueblood about the Cubs’ rough lineup and considered the possibility that Happ and his .392 OBP in the leadoff spot this series could be a bad thing for the Giants. There’s certainly a case to be made that the walk rate is the result of teams pitching him carefully or around him entirely, given the state of the rest of the lineup, and there’s definitely Statcast evidence to show that he’s not doing that much with pitches he hits (42nd percentile Barrel rate; 26th percentile Hard Hit rate), but it’s as simple as this: starting off a game with a guy getting on base is bad for the home team.

Dansby Swanson: The 10th-most valuable position player in MLB by fWAR (2.5), the 29-year old shortstop doesn’t represent the road not taken by the Giants this offseason, but he’s an interesting figure in the whole Shortstop Wars thing that kinda-sorta happened. I would’ve rather had Correa for the deal he signed with the Twins than Swanson, but it’s worth pointing out that he’s having a season right in line with his previous three. He has a nice Statcast page (and, yes, I agree that it’s funny that for all the grousing and whining SABR people have made over the years about things like batting average and wins-losses being stupidly simplistic we’ve wound up with the dumb-brained RED DOTS ARE GOOD):

The Schmitt-Crawford vs. Swanson matchup will be a fun one. Who will be the best shortstop on the field this weekend? On paper, Swanson is the heavy favorite.


Giants to watch

Thairo Estrada: I foolishly identified the Cubs’ Nico Hoerner as the key threat to Thairo Estrada’s All-Star campaign when Luis Arraez’s .400 batting average was sitting right there and will be the sole reason for Estrada’s either reserve role or outright exclusion, but in another middle infielder battle this weekend, I love 27-year old Estrada’s chances of shining against the 26-year old Hoerner. Estrada’s 2.2 fWAR makes him the 13th-most valuable position player in MLB right now (tied with Adolis Garcia, Matt Chapman, Yordan Alvarez, Yandy Diaz, Luis Robert, and Juan Soto). He’s still the best second baseman in the National League, too, edging out the Arraez’s .403 BA by a 0.2-WAR margin.

Anthony DeSclafani: His last four starts have been rough: 6.20 ERA (4.96 FIP), 1.54 WHIP in 20.1 IP. He’s also seen a slight decline in his velocity. I’m wondering if dropping a piano bench on his toe has made it more difficult to drive his pitches. We’ll find out! Big start for the big guy.

Joc Pederson: Two hits with zero extra base hits in Colorado is perhaps not what he and the Giants had hoped for coming off an IL stint, but he does have history against Stroman and hopefully he can get it going. He’s still considered a key part of the lineup.

Mitch Haniger: I checked and he is not on the IL, he’s still on the active roster, and he’s, apparently, still a living, breathing person. He’s “hit” .210/.254/.311 since May 1st (126 PA). It’s possible he’s some sort of ghost. Let’s see if he haunts Oracle Park this weekend.


Prediction time!


Giants vs. Cubs

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Giants sweep! :-)
    (25 votes)
  • 4%
    Giants swept :-(
    (4 votes)
  • 60%
    Giants win 2-1 :-)
    (59 votes)
  • 9%
    Giants lose 1-2 :-(
    (9 votes)
97 votes total Vote Now