As we near the end of the season, the Cubs lead the NL Central, but the Cardinals and Brewers are within striking distance. As the race heats up, teams look to expose each other’s weaknesses.
3 Big Weakness
- The 9th Inning
The Cubs middle relief has been great. Kyle Ryan, Rowan Wick and Brandon Kintzler have been what the Cubs needed this year. But finishing the game remains a question. Craig Kimbrel was signed to do that job and he’s been okay, but he’s currently injured. Steve Cishek has had his struggles and has joined Kimbrel on the IL now. Pedro Strop has struggled the most of anyone and yet he’s the one currently in the closing role. The Cubs have 21 blown saves in 2019 (MLB leader has 22). However, the Cubs had more opportunities than other teams so if we look at their ratio of blown saves to saves they are only 10th worst. Cub fans might have to just hold their breath at the end of games for the time being and hopefully Kimbrel will return soon and return strong.
- Too many soft-tossers
The positive to the Cubs rotation is all of the experience. The one glaring negative however is the velocity. Yu Darvish is the only starter with an average fastball above 92 mph. The Cubs starters have the 2nd lowest average fastball velocity in MLB (Only the Mariners are slower). The chart below shows the teams with the slowest average fastballs from their starting pitchers.
I’m not sure the effect of this is seen too much in the season, but come postseason it would certainly help to have a variety of starters to keep teams on their toes. Yu Darvish is the key to overcoming this, he’s been great recently and he flat out just has the stuff other starters don’t. In addition, the usage of guys like Tyler Chatwood, Rowan Wick and Dillon Maples are even more important because Joe Maddon has the ability to bring someone in with stuff opposing teams haven’t seen from the starters.
- Home-Road Split
The Cubs have not won a road series since May 19th in Washington. Yep, that’s right, May 19th! The Cubs have the largest home road split in the MLB. The Cardinals and Brewers are also top 10 on this list, meaning another reason for the Cubs poor road record is where they have to play a lot of their road games. The Cubs home winning percentage is 28.7 percent higher than their road winning percentage. Part of this speaks to how great an atmosphere Wrigley Field has, but the Cubs need to be able to win on the road, whatever that takes.
Injuries are also important as Kris Bryant is nursing a knee, Willson Contreras is on the IL and Kimbrel and Cishek on the IL. The Cubs may be able to squeak out a division title with all this, but they won’t go far in October without a healthy Bryant, Contreras and a closer.
The Cubs also addressed one of their biggest weaknesses (hitting left-handed pitchers) when they traded for Nick Castellanos. The Cubs currently have the 4th worst batting average in the MLB against lefties. Apart from Hader, and maybe Andrew Miller, the Cubs shouldn’t need to face many big-time lefties to win the division.
St. Louis Cardinals
3 Big Weaknesses
- Helping Out Goldschmidt
Paul Goldschmidt is absolutely killing the ball since the All-Star break. Marcell Ozuna has spent time on the IL so that should help. Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina are also dealing with injuries. Tyler O’Neill and Kolten Wong have both hit well since the All-Star break, but the real key for the Cards is getting those core guys healthy because Goldschmidt can’t do it on his own.
- Hitting Changeups
The Cardinals CANNOT hit changeups. There’s no wonder why the Cubs are 12-0 when Kyle Hendricks starts against the Cardinals in his career. Yes, 12-0. The Cardinals have the 4th worst batting average in the MLB (behind the Marlins, Royals and Mariners). I thought I would check expected batting average (what you should hit based on exit velocities and probabilities) in case the Cardinals were just hitting into some tough luck, but they are actually dead last on that list! Yeah, the Cardinals may actually be the worst team in the MLB at hitting changeups. Below is how the Cardinals have done against some of the pitchers with the best changeups in 2019.
Changeups are one problem Goldschmidt isn’t going to solve for St. Louis. Goldschmidt is hitting .167 against changeups this year while Fowler, Carpenter, DeJong, Wieters and Munoz are all under .200 as well. Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna are your best bet against changeups and Tyler O’Neill in limited time has also hit it well.
- Starting Pitching Depth
Jack Flaherty is living up to any and all expectations. He has been sensational! But after Flaherty the rotation has a huge drop-off. The table below shows the Cardinals startering pitchers since July 1st.
|Daniel Ponce de Leon||0||1||4||4||15.2||7.47||6.32||0.1|
Flaherty has been crazy good, Mikolas is definitely the 2 starter and Wainwright has been much better than many anticipated. The Cardinals have a lot of young arms, but not a ton of experience. If the Cardinals don’t win the division, but put themselves into the wild card game, having Jack Flaherty available for that game would be ideal.
3 Big Weaknesses
- Starting Pitching
Most of Milwaukee’s starting rotation to begin the year is now in the bullpen or on the IL. Brandon Woodruff was really good until an oblique injury. Jhoulys Chacin, Zach Davies and Jimmy Nelson have all joined Woodruff on the IL. Acquiring Jordan Lyles and Drew Pomeranz at the deadline was okay (and Lyles has been really good so far in Milwaukee), but it’s still hard to see how this hole isn’t costing Milwaukee their season yet.
- Someone Please Help Christian Yelich
The reigning MVP is doing everything on offense for the Brewers. Keston Hiura has been really good so far and actually has contributed the same WAR to the Brewers as Yelich since the all-star break (1.4 WAR). Below is the Brewers top 5 in win probability added for 2019.
If you didn’t believe Yelich was the whole offense before, this stat pretty much seals it (he’s at least 3 times as important as the next best guy).
- The Bullpen
Corey Knebel going down for the season was the beginning of a domino effect for the Brewers bullpen. They still have Josh Hader, but he hasn’t been as effective in the second half of the season so far, but he’s still their best option. Adrian Houser has been good out of the pen, but the shortage of starters has forced him into starting games where he’s been less effective. Jeffress has a 4.75 ERA and isn’t the same guy as last year. The Brewers’ strength down the stretch last year appears to be a weakness this year.
So this post isn’t just about weaknesses, here’s what every team does have to offer.
- Hendricks vs. Cardinals (they play the last two weekends of the season)
- Middle Relief- 7th best bullpen in MLB- use Kintzler, Wick, Ryan, Chatwood
- Strong Order- Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, Baez, Contreras, Castellanos, Happ, Heyward
- Home Record (41-19 at Wrigley Field this season)
- They finish games- Best Save percentage in MLB
- Jack Flaherty is dealing right now, they have a bunch of starting options
- Goldschmidt is raking; Ozuna, Carpenter, Molina returning
- Yelich is still a reigning MVP
- They have Hader
- Braun always hits against the Cubs
- Ben Gamel is a secret weapon- as a pinch hitter or starter, Gamel can hit
As far as weaknesses go; the Cubs have been terrible on the road, the Cardinals can’t hit a changeup to save their lives and the Brewers have been riding on Christian Yelich’s back all season and somehow all three are right there with a chance at the division title. It’s going to be a good finish the year as anticipated at the beginning of this year.