2:20 PM EST – Money Line: Cubs – 131, Run Line:
A potential Playoff Preview is on tap from Wrigley Field, as the surging Chicago Cubs host the Arizona Diamondbacks in the rubber match of a three-game set. After getting thrashed in the series opener 16-4, the Diamondbacks (61-46, 2nd in NL West) flexed their considerable pitching muscles, and silenced Chicago’s bats in Wednesday Night’s 3-0 shutout victory, earning a much-need victory after dropping three out of their last four contests. Zack Godley (5-4, 2.86 ERA) invoked his namesake, shutting down one of the more potent lineups in the majors, tossing a scoreless six innings, racking up five strikeouts while permitting just three hits. The young Righthander has been stellar of late, striking out twelve and walking just four over his last two starts. There would be no letdown once he left the Mound, as the Bullpen handled their business as the trio of Andrew Chafin (2.13 ERA, 11 H), Archie Bradley (1.47 ERA, 13 H), and Fernando Rodney (4.93 ERA, 23 SV) proceeded to hold the lead with nary a hiccup. From the Plate, Jake Lamb (.266 BA, 23 HR, 83 RBI) provided all the insurance that Torey Lovullo’s charges would need, pelting a two-run Double to Right Field, David Peralta (.301 BA, 10 HR, 34 RBI) and A.J. Pollock (.298 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI) in the Sixth Inning, before lining another Double (this time out to Left Field) in the Eighth, once again allowing Peralta to cross Home Plate. Taking the mound tonight for Lovullo will be Zack Greinke (13-4, 2.84 ERA), who in his second season in the desert has gotten back to the form that made him a perennial contender for the Cy Young for so many years. The 2009 award winner has been on a tear of late, leading one of the better young Rotations in the Majors, going unbeaten in nine out of his last ten starts. Needless to say, this is the guy that the Diamondbacks thought they were getting when they spent so lavishly on him two years ago. The veteran Righthander has improved exponentially across the board from a season ago, lowering his ERA (4.37 to 2.84), WHIP (1.273 to 1.005), Hits per Nine Innings (9.1 to 7.3), and Walks per Nine Innings (2.3 to 1.8), while significantly raising his Strikeouts per Nine Innings (7.6 to 9.8) and therefore his K/BB Ratio (3.27 to 5.52). Greinke has allowed three or fewer runs in six consecutive starts, including his most recent outing, a nine-strikeout gem against the St. Louis Cardinals. In the 7-1 victory last Saturday, the 33-year old permitted just one run on four hits over the course of seven innings, making short work of the Cardinals on just ninety-eight pitches. It was the fifth time this term that he racked up at least nine strikeouts in a contest, yet it was the first time since May 22nd. The four-time All-Star has faced the Cubs three times over the past three years, including twice at Wrigley Field, where he has posted a 3.27 ERA in eleven innings of work, relinquishing four runs on twelve hits, while totaling ten strikeouts and three walks, with opposing hitters batting a modest .273 against him.
Meanwhile, the Cubs (57-49, 1st in NL Central) finally hit a bump in the road, as one of the hottest teams in the Majors looks to carry their momentum into another postseason birth. Simply put, no team in the league (save for the Dodgers) has been on a more prominent tear than Chicago, who since the All-Star Break have appeared to be reborn winning fourteen out of sixteen games before Wednesday’s loss at home to the Diamondbacks. The reigning World Series Champions have surged up the standings, and have captured possession of First Place in the National League Central Division, thanks in large part to a powerful Lineup, and some key additions to the Pitching Staff. Their power was on full display in Tuesday’s 16-4 victory, as Joe Maddon’s charges totaled seventeen hits, including a staggering five home runs in the blowout. However, things changed considerably the following night, as the Cubs found themselves o the wrong side of a pitching showdown, mustering just three hits in the 3-0 defeat. Needless to say, the Top of the Order was completely vexed by the aforementioned Godley, as the combined efforts of Ben Zobrist (.224 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI), Kris Bryant (.275 BA, 20 HR, 47 RBI), Anthony Rizzo (.260 BA, 26 HR, 70 RBI), and Kyle Schwarber (.190 BA, 17 HR, 36 RBI) went just 2-for-14 from the plate, with four strikeouts. On the plus side, Jake Arrieta (10-8, 3.88 ERA) flashed the form that made him the NL Cy Young two years ago, permitting just two runs (one earned) on three hits over the duration of seven innings, with eight strikeouts and two walks. Making his fourth start since being acquired before the Trade Deadline is Jose Quintana (6-9, 4.16 ERA), who made the inter-city switch from the South Side to the North Side of Chicago. Indeed the Cubs are gambling quite a bit on the 28-year old Lefthander, whom they shipped a number of talented prospects to the White Sox for, particularly given his recent history. Quintana was an All-Star in 2016, posting a 3.20 ERA and a 1.163 WHIP in the American League, both of which were career-highs, but struggled mightily (along with the rest of the White Sox) throughout the first half of the campaign, going 4-8 with a bloated 4.49 ERA, 1.323 WHIP, 8.5 Hits per Nine innings, and 3.5 Walks per Nine Innings, with a mediocre 2.73 K/BB Ratio. However, it appears that the switch to the National League (and not to mention the reigning World Series Champions) has motivated the youngster, for Quintana has impressed quite a bit in his first three start with the Cubs; the fifth-year veteran has gone 2-1, while greatly diminishing his ERA (2.37), WHIP (0.895), and averaging fewer Hits (5.7) and Walks (2.4) per Nine Innings. Furthermore, he’s been mowing opposing batters at a rather prolific rate, striking 11.8 opponents per Nine Innings, twenty-five over the course of nineteen innings of labor in comparison to just five walks. If the Colombian International can maintain this form, then parting ways with all those prospects will indeed be worth it for Maddon and Co. for despite the team’s upward turn since the All-Star Break, the Pitching Staff, particularly the Rotation, was in dire need of an upgrade.