By Charles Jay
The Chicago Cubs have been disappointing. And there is no question that people are expecting more from them as the season progresses. But we have been through 66 games and as we look at the fundamentals, you have to conclude that they are lucky that their competitors in the National League Central aren't all that good, or else they might be far out of the playoff race. As it stands, they trail the Milwaukee Brewers by two and a half games, so they are right there in striking distance. But they are not on a good path right now, as they prepare to face one of the better pitchers in the senior circuit on Saturday night.
They will oppose Ivan Nova of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who has done a great job since coming over from the New York Yankees in a trade. Nova is 6-4 with an ERA of 2.83, and the Cubs will trot out Jake Arrieta, who was the hottest guy in the majors a couple of years ago, beating out Zack Greinke for the Cy Young Award, but has, well, cooled off since then.
This is what we're looking at right now at BetDNA.com, home of the best live betting software on the planet:
Chicago Cubs (Arrieta) -128
Pittsburgh Pirates (Nova) +112
Cubs -1.5 Runs +127
Pirates +1.5 Runs -149
Under 9 Runs -120
Over 9 Runs +100
The Cubs had five solid starters last season, and Jason Hammel had the worst ERA of that quintet at 3.83. This season their BEST pitcher, in terms of ERA, is Jon Lester, at 3.89. Get where we're going here? Last season, on the way to winning the World Series, a lot of things came together just right for Joe Maddon and his team, but this year -not exactly. Arrieta has been inconsistent at best (6-4, 4.68 ERA), and even though no one could expect him to duplicate his numbers from 2015, he isn't even close to what he was doing in 2016. For instance, he is allowing 9.1 hits per nine innings, which is a big jump. And a 1.33 WHIP is mediocre at best. So has he hit the wall? Hmmmm, maybe.
If they were getting more from their offense, the Cubs might be leading this division comfortably. But Kris Bryant, who won the NL's MVP last year, has just 28 runs batted in. Addison Russell, the brilliant young shortstop who has those domestic abuse allegations swirling around him, is a .214 hitter. Other guys are slumping, and Ben Zobrist, who was one of them, has been placed on the disabled list, where he joins Kyle Hendricks. Zobrist is the only guy on the Cubs' roster who has had a lot of at bats against Nova, although it would have been a double-edged sword, since he is only 6-for-38 lifetime against the right-hander.
We're not crazy about the way the Cubs have played on the road, but then, who could be - they are hitting .228 as the visitor and are well under .500 (13-18), even after Friday's 9-5 victory. That's just one of the reasons we like Nova and the Pirates here. Another reason is that Nova is just more dependable; he can be counted on to go six innings or more on most occasions, has the seventh-best WHIP ratio in the majors, and has also walked fewer batters per nine innings than anyone (0.71). So it's a vote for the Pirates on Saturday night.
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