The Padres still can’t afford to relax, just 3 1/2 up on San Francisco. If they get swept in this next four-game set with the Cubs, this division could slip right back to an even race.
Kevin Correia, Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, and Mat Latos will attempt to prevent that from happening and expand the lead against Chicago’s offense. Let’s see how this series breaks down when the Padres’ starters are on the bump.
Wow, the Cubs can’t hit sliders.
The team is dead-last in slider hitting, coming in at a whopping 1.50 runs below average per 100 pitches.
The Cubs are the classic “hard-or-soft” team. They can hit fastballs (.15 runs above average per 100 pitches; 10th in MLB) and curves (.49 runs above average per 100 pitches; 6th in MLB), but in-between pitches (sliders and changeups) give them fits (they’re 21st in changeups at -.68 runs per 100).
That might sound like an odd profile, but lots of slugger types actually have the fastball/curve hitter profile. Basically, they look fastball, and have plenty of time to adjust to curveballs (since they’re the slowest of the four mainly-thrown pitches and often have large velocity differences from the heater), but the slider and changeup are closer in speed to the fastball, so they don’t have the time to pick up the pitch and then adjust to the speed.
The Cubs fall loosely into that all-or-nothing slugger profile, as the team is 11th in Isolated Power, 23rd in walk rate, and strikes out at the seventh-highest clip in baseball. Don’t throw a fastball up in the zone, don’t hang a curveball, and you probably can take care of most of these guys.
The first two Padres starters, Kevin Correia and Jon Garland, naturally thrive on the “don’t hang anything” idea, as both are groundball pitchers. Correia’s slider could give the Cubs fits, but his changeup isn’t much of a weapon, and he does tend to miss up with the fastball sometimes (hence the 1.25 HR/9).
It’s worth noting that Geovany Soto, who’s a ridiculous 3.22 runs above average per 100 fastballs this year, is currently on the DL, making Koyie Hill (an ugly -1.92 per 100 fastballs) the starter behind the plate. The team still has noted fastball hitters Marlon Byrd, Tyler Colvin, and Kosuke Fukudome, as well as many others (Xavier Nady, Alfonso Soriano, Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt) who are solid against the pitch. Hill, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez are the only three Cub starters who rate much below average against the pitch, so the lumber is certainly there to cause trouble, especially with the Padres away from Petco.
In short, Correia must keep the ball down, and he shouldn’t be afraid to put it way down. Remember, this team doesn’t walk much, as guys like Colvin, Soriano, Starlin Castro, Baker, Nady, Ramirez, Hill, and Byrd swing at a lot of pitches. Correia needs to keep the fastball down and sprinkle in a ton of those sliders (Fukudome is the only hitter on the team above-average against the pitch). I think he’ll find a nice degree of success.
Jon Garland is more of a fastball-only pitcher, although he’s been throwing a few more curves of late. On the surface, the fastball/curve approach isn’t something that would seem to work against a fastball/curve-hitting team, but the important thing to remember with Garland is that he doesn’t put the ball in the center of the plate. The Cubs don’t walk much, and are really a power-oriented outfit, so Garland is just the sort of crafty pitcher that can give an over-aggressive homer-happy team like this fits. He also keeps the ball on the ground and doesn’t have the homer problem Correia does. I think Garland should pitch fine as well; neither he nor Correia is likely to go out and dominate, but both should give the Padres a chance to win.
The Cubs are much worse against righties (.251/.317/.395) than lefthanders (.280/.338/.451), which is bad news for Richard, although his pound-the-fastball-at-the-knees style is well-suited to this over-aggressive Cubs team.
Richard, as I’ve said before, is very predictable. He throws either a fastball or a changeup about 93% of the time to righties, and either a fastball or a slider 93% of the time to lefties. The easiest way to find out who can hit his stuff, then, is to find righties who can hit fastballs and changeups and lefties who can hit fastballs and sliders.
I mentioned Fukudome as being the one fastball/slider hitter on the team, although it’d be somewhat surprising if he even started against the lefty Richard. He only has 25 plate appearances against lefties this year, after all. That means every lefty in the lineup will be slider-vulnerable, a nice help to Richard.
He’ll have to watch out for Castro, who has shown extraordinary aptitude on slow stuff and is average against fastballs. Soriano’s around average against fastballs and changeups, and of course, Richard will have to watch himself with the heater against Byrd, Colvin, Baker, and Nady. Colvin’s helpless on lefty sliders, though, and Byrd, Baker, and Nady struggle with changeups, so Richard has a good shot at getting them with his offspeed stuff. Again, I see a solid but unspectacular start from him.
Finally, there’s Latos. I always predict Latos will be great, and he usually is. The guy has a great slider and changeup, and he’s facing a team that can’t hit sliders or changeups. Just keep the fastball out of the middle of the plate, and he’ll be dominant again.