Heading into a critical series with the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend, the Chicago Cubs have what appears to be little room to falter. It is a must-win, strong playoff implications type of series this weekend. As it sits, the Cubs are 2.5 games up in the Wild Card race while falling behind the Milwaukee Brewers by a still obtainable 4.5 games back. Still, there isn't much time to catch up, but the fact that the team is still up in the second Wild Card spot puts the team in an enviable position.
Let's dig into why. Yes, this Diamondbacks series is as crucial as it gets right now for a position in the postseason race. After that, however, the Cubs are fortunate to have another series with the Colorado Rockies, followed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. That appears to be it for the "easily winnable" series' left on the calendar.
You must remember one thing: The series with the Braves may have no real meaning for Atlanta, who should clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by then and, therefore, may be resting guys before the playoffs. The same goes with Milwaukee, who, with no real position to catch up to the Los Angeles Dodgers, might find themselves in a spot where they clinch the division before the last series of games, but since they can't move up further, rest players as well.
On the other hand, the closest two teams currently fighting for the last Wild Card spot are the Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants, who finish the year against the Houston Astros and Dodgers, respectively. Houston should give Arizona problems as they are looking to secure a division win. Still, it'll be interesting to see what happens with the Giants/Dodgers series if L.A. can't catch Atlanta and, therefore, the rest guys on their own.
Chicago Cubs: Team remains in the driver's seat heading into the weekend
At the very least, the Cubs must win the series against the D-Backs. Thankfully, they will narrowly miss Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly this time. Pitching Probables for this weekend:
Game One: Justin Steele (2.49 ERA) vs. Brandon Pfaadt (6.25 ERA)
Game Two: Kyle Hendricks (3.71 ERA) vs. Zach Davies (6.81 ERA)
Game Three: Jordan Wicks (1.99 ERA) vs. Ryne Nelson (5.53 ERA)
Luck favors Chicago this time based on pitching matchups. As for Tonight, Pfaadt has a 7.30 ERA at home. Davies, tomorrow, has a 6.23, and Nelson, on Sunday, owns an 8.59.
For Pfaadt, 73.8% of his pitch mix is fastball (46.7%) and sweeper (27.1%). The two-pitch combination has not proved beneficial for him, and the Cubs would be wise to sit on the heater, which isn't blowing hitters away at 93.7 mph on average. He allows an average exit velocity of 91.7 mph on that pitch, with a 21-degree launch angle on that pitch alone. Pencil me in for a Dansby Swanson home run tonight; he smashes fastballs already and has a line of .277/.344/.503 against fly ball pitchers.
With Steele on the bump, the Cubs can jump on the D-backs, take the first game, and rebuild their confidence. You want to see the team come out, take care of business, and prove they belong. It should be an enjoyable weekend in Arizona, and the team inches closer to a postseason berth.