2:20 PM EST – Line: Cubs -138, Over/Under: 10.5
Playoff hopefuls clash tonight in the finale of a three-game Interleague Series from Wrigley Field, as the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs play host to the Oakland Athletics. It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Athletics (64-49, 2nd in AL West), who after getting off to a morbidly-disappointing 19-25 start, have turned things around with aplomb, having since gone 45-24, including 14-8 since the All-Star Break. As a result, they’ve vaulted up the Standings, inserting themselves into what figures to be quite the competition for a Wild Card in the American League. Trailing the juggernaut that has become the Houston Astros by a whopping NINE Games within the Division, the only remaining route for Oakland to return to the Playoffs is a Wild Card, and at the moment they’re sitting a mere half-game out of that position. However, if Bob Melvin’s charges are indeed going to secure that final spot, then they’re going to have to continue relying upon their pitching, which has really stepped it up in the second half of the term, with the Starters going 8-4 with a much-improved ERA , 3.87, down from 4.17 before the Midsummer Classic. Making this all the more impressive is the fact that they’ve managed to do so given the circumstances of losing one of their Starters before the intermission; the A’s lost Frankie Montas (9-2, 2.70 ERA, 15 GS, 90.0 IP, 80 H, 27 ER, 7 HR, 21 BB, 97 K, 1.122 WHIP), who despite being arguably their most effective Starter, was nonetheless tagged with an 80-Game Suspension for running afoul of the league’s Performance-Enhancing Drug Policy. Taking the mound tonight for the Athletics will be Homer Bailey (9-7, 5.20 ERA, 22 GS, 110.2 IP, 116 H, 64 ER, 15 HR, 45 BB, 101 K, 1.455 WHIP), whom was acquired weeks before the official Trade Deadline in a deal with the Kansas City Royals. Of course, this transaction was made all the more necessary after the lengthy suspension of Montas . In dire need of a reliable arm in the Rotation, Melvin & Co. quickly made the deal for the 33-Year Old on July 14th, with the veteran forced to quickly acclimate himself to his new surroundings. Since arriving in the Bay Area, Bailey has gone 2-1 with a 6.97 ERA and 1.645 WHIP in Four Starts, with both of those figures significant increases over his production with the Royals, though he has managed to decrease his averages of Walks (3.0) while increasing his average of Strikeouts per Nine Innings (8.7) and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (2.87). With that said, apart from a miserable performance in which he was responsible for Nine Earned Runs on Eight Hits, including Three Home Runs in just Two Innings of labor, he’s proven to be a solid addition to the Pitching Staff; the A’s have won each of his other Three Starts, with Bailey permitting Seven Earned Runs on Nineteen Hits, with Thirteen Strikeouts and Four Walks. When we last saw the Righthander, he logged his third Quality Start since joining the club in a 5-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers last Thursday, relinquishing just a pair of Earned Runs on Five Hits, with Five Strikeouts in comparison to Three Walks over the course of Six Innings, in what ended in a No-Decision. With Montas set to return to action following his suspension in late August, a Rotation that had sorely-lacked quality depth is about to find themselves in far better shape.
Meanwhile, it appears that the Cubs (61-51, 1st in NL Central) have recognized that the time is now to make a run and solidify what would be their third NL Central Title in four years. After briefly relinquishing their lead within the Division to their bitter rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago has gone on a run of their own, winning each of their last four games, which coinciding with the Cardinals’ own struggles of late, has granted them the luxury of some distance in the Standings (2.5 Games). However, if we’re to actually take Joe Maddon’s charges seriously as contenders, then they had better find a way to start performing better on the road this season; 40-18 at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, the Cubbies are a dismal 21-33 away from home, in one of the biggest disparities among Playoff Teams. The problem is that their Pitching has taken an absolute beating on the road, with the Staff throwing up a 4.73 ERA away from home opposed to a figure of 3.30 at Wrigley Field. In seven fewer games, they’ve given up more Hits (Plus-18), Runs (Plus-49), and Walks (Plus-26), with a startling inability to strikeout the opposition (Minus-79). Taking the mound tonight for the Cubs will be Jose Quintana (9-7, 4.40 ERA, 21 GS, 122.2 IP, 121 H, 60 ER, 16 HR, 35 BB, 103 K, 1.353 WHIP), who has been on fire lately, winning five of his last six starts, with the club going on to win in each of those appearances. The Lefthander has benefitted greatly from the his teammates’ prowess at the plate of late, going 3-0 since the All-Star Break despite carrying an ERA of 5.40, which is significantly higher than the 4.19 he had logged before the All-Star Break. In his last six starts, Chicago has averaged 8.0 Runs per Game, reaching double-figures on two occasions. When we last saw the Colombian International, he was solid in a 6-2 triumph over the Brewers back on Friday Night, yielding a pair of Earned Runs on Seven Hits over the course of 6.0 Innings, with Five Strikeouts and Zero Walks. While he may never become the Pitcher they thought that they were trading for back in 2017, making the short transition from the Northside of the Windy City to the Southside, Quintana has the potential of taking the Starting Rotation to another level. Make no mistake, this veteran-laden group has been better than advertised in 2019, thanks in large part to a Bullpen that has failed them on multiple occasions this year. Maddon & Co. thought that they had their answer in the form of Craig Kimbrel (0-2, 5.68 ERA, 14 G, 9 SV, 12.2 IP, 13 H, 8 ER, 4 HR, 8 BB, 17 K, 1.658 WHIP), whom they signed as a Free Agent back in early June, but the seven-time All-Star hasn’t been much better than the man he was brought into supplant, Pedro Strop (2-4, 5.20 ERA, 32 G, 9 SV, 27.2 IP, 23 H, 16 ER, 5 HR, 9 BB, 29 K, 1.157 WHIP). The former Red Sox Closer has posted an ERA of 5.68 since arriving to the club, which is marginally worse than Strop’s (5.20), and making matters worse is the fact that both players have now hit the Disabled List, with the former’s stay credited to swelling in his Right Knee, while the latter is dealing with tightness in his neck. Neither Pitcher is expected to miss a significant amount of time, but their relative health certainly bears watching moving forward.