Chicago Cubs: AL East-leading New York Yankees come to town for battle

Oct 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of the marquee at the main entrance before game one of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of the marquee at the main entrance before game one of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

The American League East-leading New York Yankees, with a few former Chicago Cubs players, make the trek to Wrigley Field for a weekend series.

Wrigley Field will be abuzz as two of the most historic franchises in Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees, meet for a weekend series. One team known for winning, the other for decades of futility. Yet, both enter the series on common ground as they are both in first place in their respective divisions.

The Yankees’ climb to the top of the AL East is powered by the bat. The Chicago Cubs rely on balance of their offense and pitching staff, especially their relievers. Both count on young players to lead the way. It makes for great baseball – even in early May.

Tape measure

The Yankees offense is powerful. Lead by young right fielder Aaron Judge, whom I call Judge Dread, is a menace to pitching society. Leading all of baseball with 13 home runs, Judge holds court and pronounces his rulings consistently. Add to that his .330/.433/.818 slash line, and you can see he holds opposing pitching in contempt.

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As a team, the Yankees sit in the top five in team batting average, home runs, total bases and runs scored. They also walk at a high rate.

The Chicago Cubs are performing well overall, but get their runs from timely hitting more than home runs.

Yes, the Cubs have hit home runs at key times, but also double and triples at a higher clip.

The pitching staffs for both teams are similar, as well. Where the Cubs rotation is allowing an alarming amount of runs in the first inning (35 to be exact), the Yankees are most vulnerable in the seventh. Their staff has allowed 20 of their 103 total runs in the seventh inning this year. Their next most is 17 runs in the first and 15 in the second. Get to the last two innings and both teams can close it out with the best of them.

What to watch

The most intriguing story of the weekend series is not how the Cubs will pitch to Judge, or even fellow slugger Gary Sanchez. That will definitely be a challenge, especially since Sanchez is returning from the disabled list. It will not even be the matchup on the field each game. The main story going into the series will be the players returning to Wrigley for the first time since leaving the team.

After helping the Chicago Cubs get to and win the World Series, pitchers Adam Warren and Aroldis Chapman will appear on the grass of the Friendly Confines. For their time with the team, even if it ended on questionable terms, both players will receive their World Series rings on Friday. But, even their appearance is not the biggest story line.

The best story? Starlin Castro returns to the field where he started his career. Six years and three All-Star appearance as a Cub, Castro was traded for Warren before the 2016 season.

When Ben Zobrist was signed, the room for Castro was limited. Additionally, he struggled to be consistent. A fresh start was needed. This year, Castro is leading the American League in hits while maintaining a .362 average and .402 on-base percentage. Looks like the fresh start did him some good. And Cubs fans are happy for him.

The series

The first game of the series features a stellar pitching matchup.

Michael Pineda is showing his top starter ability, with a 3-1 record and a  3.14 ERA. He also has struck out 37 and walked four batters. However, seven of his 12 earned runs have come on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays. Toeing the rubber for the Cubs in the first game is Kyle Hendricks. After a rough start, Hendricks has allowed two runs in his last two starts. The walks are still a bit high, but the velocity of his fastball is up to more expected pace.

The second game will pit rookie pitcher Jordan Montgomery versus Cubs Brett Anderson. Montgomery’s last two starts have ended in losses for the Yankees, with him giving up five total runs in those starts. Anderson is coming off a rough start on May 1, a game in which weather conditions played a role in his lack of control early.

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The series finale will air on ESPN Sunday night, with Jon Lester and Luis Severino on the mound. Lester hopes to rebound after giving up 12 earned runs in his last three starts. Opponents have scored on Lester in the first inning his last two games. Severino is a ace pitcher in the making.

Yet, while batters hit better off him in the first 15 pitches, he has allowed eight runs from pitches 46-60. If the Cubs work counts on him, it could be an early night.