This'll be the 7th meeting between the Cubs and Rockies this season, and with the series split at 3-3, it's oddly poetic that tonight is single-elimination.
The Cubs will send Jon Lester to the mound, and Kyle Freeland's starting for Colorado.
Baseball is a game overstuffed with stats, and you will surely hear that you're allowed to throw them all out for a one-game playoff. Platitudes aside, there are a handful of stats worth looking at when trying to get a feel for tonight's game. Here they are:
We'll start off with some bad news for Cubs' fans, with the promise that I'll make up for it somewhere farther down the list. The -1.07 represents the difference between Jon Lester's ERA and Jon Lester's FIP. It doesn't get the hate that W-L records do, but ERA is not-so-slowly losing its status as the tell-all pitching statistic. With that said, looking at ERA in comparison to other statistics still provides plenty of insight. In this instance, Lester's ERA is over a full run lower than his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). On its surface, that indicates that Lester has benefitted mightly from luck this season. Lester's ERA sits at 3.32, which is not going to win him any Cy Youngs but still lower than the 2018 league average (4.14). Lester's FIP? 4.39. Of all Cubs' starters with at least 50 innings pitched, no one has a higher disparity than Lester's -1.07. In fact, only eight starters across the entire league with at least 50 IPs has a wider gap. No one questions whether Lester can perform on a stage like this -- and looking at a gap set over 180 innings doesn't do a whole lot for a one-game performance -- but it's interesting to see how ERA still finds ways of directing the narrative around starters.
This is the wRC+ that the Rockies' offense posted in road games this season. Given that wRC+ is a park-adjusted stat where the league average sits at 100, you can get a sense of how bad that is. Only 1 team - the San Fransisco Giants - had a worst road wRC+. It's not groundbreaking to point out that the Rockies offense is quite as prolific away from Denver's thin air, but it's illuminating to see just *how* bad their offense is on the road. The Rockies had a -6 run differential on the road (and a +41 at home, lolol) so they're clearly a different team away from Mile High.
11 percent is how often the Cubs bullpen walks batters. It's not great! In fact, it's so not great that only one team's bullpen (Atlanta) walks more batters. It gets worse! Only six teams had worse K-BB% ratios than the Cubs' bullpen did this season, and four of those teams finished with less than 65 wins. Plainly, the Cubs' walk a lot of batters late in games and don't have much in terms of backend strikeout threats. He's struggled this season, but not having Carl Edwards Jr -- the Cubs' best strikeout guy -- on today's roster is a real blow.
Here we have the Cubs' OPS against left-handers at Wrigley. Granted, this is an awfully specific stat. But it's worth pointing out that it's the third-best home OPS against lefties in all of baseball. Given that the Cubs are at home, against a lefty, that seems noteable. What does this mean in regards to their lineup? I'd expect to see Albert Almora Jr. and his .806 OPS against lefties slotted in there somewhere. Same goes for David Bote, though most of his damage against lefties has come on the road this season.
Finally, we've reached some good news. 2.25 is Jon Lester's ERA through 148 playoff innings pitched. Did I just spend 500 words explaining why ERA was outdated? I sure did! And while that's certainly true, it doesn't take Bill James to tell you that a sub-3 ERA over almost a full season's worth of playoff innings is incredible. The Cubs' gave Lester $155 million over six years specifically for starts like tonight.
BONUS - 48.6%
The Rockies are one of the most aggressive swinging teams in baseball. That 48.6 percent represents how often they swing at pitches, which is the 4th-highest in all of baseball this year. They swing at pitches in the strike zone 70 percent of the time, which is four percentage points higher than the MLB average and the second-most in the league. They make contact on 84 percent of pitches in the zone, which seems like a lot, but actually isn't (23rd in MLB). They're free swingers who don't make a particularly impressive amount of contact, which bodes well for Lester and the Cubs.