The Phillies travel to Chicago for a three game series against the Cubs beginning today.
Entering the series, Philadelphia is 10-5 in their last 15 games and coming off a series win against the Mets at home. On the other side, Chicago brings an 11-4 record in their last 15, splitting the London Series with St. Louis over the weekend.
Both clubs are red hot at the moment and climbing in the standings is sure to motivate the Cubs even more now that the Cardinals are firmly in last place. For the Phillies, maintaining momentum through this series is crucial given the recent turnarounds from Taijuan Walker and Ranger Suarez.
Game 1: Ranger Suarez vs. TBD
Ranger Suarez is coming off another solid start, but certainly not a start to bookmark. Over six innings pitched, Ranger struck out seven while allowing two walks, one run and four hits.
Ranger once again finds himself in a great spot. He has brought his ERA down to 3.50 on the year after eight starts. However, there is still considerable work to be done on the mound for Ranger. Despite his 3.50 ERA, he has allowed opponents to hit .253 with a .705 OPS against him this season.
While the Cubs’ starter has not been announced as of Monday, June 26th, it may not be far-off to assume former Phillie Drew Smyly will face off against one of his former clubs.
So far this season, against left-handed pitching, the Cubs as a whole are hitting .261 with a .774 OPS. Could be worse, but they have scored considerably less runs off left-handed pitching as compared to right-handed pitching to this point in 2023. However, against LHP Matthew Liberatore on Sunday, the Cubs were able to put up four runs in the first inning.
Ranger’s success in game one relies heavily on the Phillies’ bats to support him. Suarez will have a good night if he trusts his stuff and can execute his changeup low and away to right-handed batters.
Game 2: Aaron Nola vs. TBD
Not much else can be said about Aaron Nola’s struggles this year. Nola comes into this game with a 6-5 record over 16 games started. So far, he has recorded 98 strikeouts over 100 and two-thirds innings pitched, good for a 4.38 ERA. In his last start, his fastball topped out at 95 MPH, which is a good sign considering his average fastball velocity this year has been just 92.3 MPH.
Aaron has had considerable issues both finishing batters off as well as getting through the lineup effectively more than twice.
Good news for the Phillies starter, the Cubs struggle even more against right-handed pitching.
This Cubs squad boasts a .243 batting average as a team against righties and this showed after Cardinals’ right-handed reliever Jake Woodford took over for Matthew Liberatore in Sunday’s final London Series game. Over two and one-third innings pitched, Woodford struck out one and allowed zero runs.
The Cubs have not announced a starter for game two as of writing this, but it could be Kyle Hendricks because of Marcus Stroman’s start in London on Sunday.
While a solid start from Nola cannot be expected after his rough start, the Phillies will most certainly need their bats to come to the rescue. Nola’s struggles often stem from lack of run support, as he often surrenders runs at higher pitch counts and later innings.
Game 3: Taijuan Walker vs. TBD
Taijuan’s month of June has been great, to say the least. He turned his first half around with a solid start in Oakland followed by six innings of one-run ball against the Mets on June 23rd. After an abysmal start, Walker’s ERA is down to 4.10 and over his last five games he has kept his ERA at just 1.50.
Walker needs to continue his string of good starts in order to keep the Phillies rotation going. With Nola’s struggles and the obvious lack of a fifth starter, Taijuan is a crucial piece to this rotation.
Taijuan’s ability to control his arsenal, especially up in the zone, will considerably change the game. The Phillies will most likely need much less run support for Walker, but more fireworks are always fun to watch. If his next start in Chicago continues Walker’s string of solid starts, the Phillies have a really good chance of not only taking the rubber match, but the series as a whole.
For the Cubs, there is a good chance the Phillies will see Justin Steele, arguably the ace of the Chicago staff. Game three might just be a good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel, but for the Phillies’ sake, that needs to be prevented.
This series is very winnable for the Phillies especially after taking the series against the Mets over the weekend. The Phillies have certainly found some kind of groove that has helped propel them to a 10-5 record in their last 15 games. Much like last year, this club is just getting started in June.