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Orioles-Cubs series preview: The second half begins

Things haven't gone according to plan for the Cubs as they defend last year's World Series title. Maybe the Orioles can find a way to take advantage and start the second half out right.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs
A face we saw Jake Arrieta make many times as an Oriole - if not with that beard.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cubs finally broke their 108 years of futility and won the World Series last year, surely there must have been visions of a dynasty dancing through the heads of their fans. After all, they brought back nearly all of the core that won them 103 games in the regular season as well as the championship last year.

It hasn't quite worked out like that, which is why the Cubs aren't doing too much better than the Orioles in the standings. They brought a 43-45 record into the break, 5.5 games back of their division leaders, the Brewers.

The Cubs rotation has been dogged by injuries and pitchers just plain taking big steps backwards for no apparent reason, including former Oriole Jake Arrieta, who's going to be a free agent after this year.

Although the Cubs have a couple of young stars, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, manning the corners of their infield, just about every other regular position player has been disappointing, perhaps none moreso than Kyle Schwarber, who comes into the break with just a .178 batting average. He is not the only culprit.

The Cubs team we might have expected to see even at the start of the All-Star break isn't the one that will show up in Baltimore. They struck with a surprising trade on Thursday morning, acquiring starting pitcher Jose Quintana from their crosstown rival White Sox in exchange for four minor leaguers, two of whom are top 100 prospects in baseball. He will pitch in this series.

The defending World Series champions have had their struggles on the road this season, with a 19-25 record. That's not quite as bad as the Orioles have been, but they have had their share of problems. Both teams will be looking to start out the second half right. Let's hope it's the Orioles who do so.

Below stats were all retrieved from Baseball Reference. It's the best.

Game 1 - Friday, 7:05

Starting pitchers: Mike Montgomery (1-6, 3.75 ERA) vs. Kevin Gausman (5-7, 5.85 ERA)

Chris Davis will be returning from the disabled list for the Orioles just in time to get to face a lefty, Mike Montgomery, who has a 5.45 ERA in seven starts since joining the Cubs rotation. As a team, the Orioles are actually somewhat better against lefties this year, with a collective .717 OPS - middle of the pack in the AL.

The O's season won't be over if Kevin Gausman doesn't have a good start coming out of the break, but contemplating the rest of the year will sure be a whole lot better if the days of rest were enough to get him to do whatever it is that he has needed to do to start pitching better.

Chicago will be able to load up the lineup against Gausman with lefty batters or switch hitters, if they want, but it's actually righties who've plagued Gausman the most this year, as Gausman has allowed a .332/.382/.508 batting line against them. Good grief, why has he been so bad this year?

Game 2 - Saturday, 7:05

Starting pitchers: Jake Arrieta (8-7, 4.35 ERA) vs. Wade Miley (4-7, 4.97 ERA)

It's nice of Arrieta to turn in one clunker of a season with the Cubs so that the Orioles trading him isn't a complete and total bitter regret... just most of one. What's been his problem this year? I don't know, but his stuff is suddenly hittable. He held batters to just a .194 average last year and a .277 OBP, while this year they're hitting .248 with a .320 OBP.

On the other hand, it would be nice if there was an Orioles starting pitcher for whom a clunker was merely a 4.35 ERA or 4.17 FIP. Instead, they have Wade Miley, who's ERA has ended up about where you might expect based on his career. Although Miley's season started out well, his walk rate never did come down and an early dose of good luck has fled him, which is why he now is where he is.

Although the Cubs have had their problems this season, specifically with hitting, one of those problems has not been facing lefty pitchers. They've got the second-best OPS against LHP in the National League, with a .252/.358/.444 batting line against southpaws. That's a bad sign for Miley.

Game 3 - Sunday, 1:35

Starting pitchers: Jose Quintana (4-8, 4.49 ERA in AL) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4, 6.67 ERA)

If you need an example of why pitcher win-loss records don't tell us a whole lot that's meaningful, the disparity in losses between Quintana and Jimenez despite how they have pitched makes it pretty clear.

Quintana was an interesting trade piece for the Cubs to acquire not so much because of his 2017 performance as for his performance in each of the six years before this. Well, that and he's signed through 2020 for a very team-friendly contract, so the Cubs will have a number of seasons to cash in on their new acquisition.

The Orioles have already seen Quintana once this year when he was with the White Sox. They scored four runs off of him in five innings and won that game. Maybe that's a good sign.

Jimenez... who even knows, you know? Although two of his first three starts after rejoining the rotation were excellent. The third was very bad. So were the two starts he made after that stretch, right before the All-Star break. Some of the best Jimenez starts this year came against National League teams, so maybe that's worth something.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this Cubs series?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    None (The Orioles get swept)
    (23 votes)
  • 34%
    1
    (60 votes)
  • 38%
    2
    (67 votes)
  • 13%
    3 (The Orioles sweep)
    (23 votes)
173 votes total Vote Now