Series Preview: Brewers at Cubs

Sveum

Cubs Lineup:

David DeJesus - RF
Darwin Barney – 2B
Starlin Castro – SS
Alfonso Soriano – LF
Ian Stewart – 3B
Jeff Baker – 1B
Marlon Byrd – CF
Geovany Soto – C      
 
Game One: Shaun Marcum (200.2 IP, 3.73 FIP in 2011) vs. Chris Volstad (165.2 IP, 4.32 FIP)

Marcum makes his first start of the year for the Brewers after missing several weeks of Spring Training with shoulder inflammation. Right now, his health is fine, and he shouldn’t be severely limited as far as his pitch count goes.

Starting for the Cubs is Volstad, who was acquired from Miami in a trade for Carlos Zambrano last January. Volstad’s stuff isn’t exceptional– he throws a low 90s fastball and a sinker while mixing in a curve, slider, and change– but he throws the sinker nearly 40% of the time, which, in concert with his height (6’8), allows him to keep the ball on the ground more often than usual. (His career ground-ball rate of 50.4% is well above the league average.) However, the end result looks a lot like a typical back-of-the-rotation starter, with a career line of 9.5 hits, 3.1 walks, 5.8 strikeouts, and 1.1 home runs per nine innings.

Game Two: Chris Narveson (161 IP, 4.06 FIP) vs. Paul Maholm (162.1 IP, 3.78 FIP)

One of the better fifth starters in the game, Narveson will make his 2012 debut for the Brewers on Tuesday. Narveson had hip surgery late last October, but he has been fine all Spring and there’s no reason to think that it’s an issue now.

Signed as a free agent over the Winter, the 30 year old Maholm has an extensive history with the Brewers as a result of the seven years he spent with the Pirates. In Pittsburgh, Maholm alternated some very good seasons with seasons that would have got him bumped from the rotation anywhere else: He posted ERAs above 5.00 in 2007 and 2010, mitigated by marks below 3.70 in 2008 and 2011. Maybe we’ll know which Maholm shows up in 2012 a few months from now, but right now we’ll say that his 4.21 career FIP (9.8 hits, 3.0 walks, 5.5 strikeouts, and .08 home runs per nine) looks a lot like Narveson. Both have outpitched their ERA thanks to some very poor defenses behind them, though Maholm allows significantly more ground balls (52.3% career), which is expected given his repertoire: Maholm throws a four-seam fastball, but he mainly uses an upper 80s sinker to set up his curve, change, and slider.

Game Three: Yovani Gallardo (207.1 IP, 3.59 FIP) vs. Ryan Dempster (202.1 IP, 3.91 FIP)

Gallardo didn’t pitch very well his last time out. The 713 innings he threw before that start are probably a better indicator of how he’ll do than the 3.2 innings he threw last Friday. That’s the end of that.

Given his lengthy tenure with the Cubs, Brewers fans are no stranger to Dempster or his fastball/slider/splitter arsenal. The 35 year old right-hander just started his ninth year in Chicago, where he has been a very good, but inconsistent starter: Dempster has averaged a 3.86 ERA in Wrigleyville, though his ERA has been more than .7 runs above or below that in five of those eight years. This is strange in some ways, given that Dempster doesn’t give up a ton of the balls in play that are usually so volatile from year to year (8.4 hits, 3.6 walks, 8.3 strikeouts, and .8 home runs per nine as a member of the Cubs). Dempster has something of a reputation for dominating the Brewers, and his 2.75 ERA backs that up, but his strikeout and walk rates (8.4 and 3.9 per nine, respectively) aren’t any different from his career norms.

Storylines:

–Which group of fans will have temporary bragging rights at series’ end?
–Former Brewers player/coach Dale Sveum will manage against his old club.
–Will the Brewers solve the mystery of Ryan Dempster?
–According to Twitter, a bunch of Brewer fans will be at the game tonight. Follow their journeys.    

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