Our Piecemeal Preview Series offers a haphazard glance at an upcoming game or series. Not a comprehensive preview; instead only a handful of relevant (or irrelevant) topics will be touched upon.
The Cubs complete the first series of the season with a couple of afternoon games against the Washington Nationals.
On Saturday (12:05) Matt Garza will take the mound, looking to help the Cubs get back to .500 and also get his second season with the team off to a good start. Garza was easily the Cubs’ best starting pitcher last season with a solid ERA (3.32) and superior K/BB ratio (8.95). But due to a lack in run support and several leads blown by the bullpen, he finished the season with a pedestrian 10-10 record. Garza will faceoff against Gio Gonzalez, who is making his Nationals’ debut after joining the team in an offseason trade with the Oakland Athletics. Last year he produced solid numbers, winning 16 games while posting a 3.12 ERA. While not exactly an elite pitcher, most of the Cubs will have little or no experience facing Gonzalez, which is usually a recipe that favors the pitcher. It will be important for the Cubs to get to him early and put some runs on the board in the first couple of innings.
Jeff Samardzija gets the start on Easter Sunday (1:20). Working out of the bullpen, 2011 was probably Samardzija’s best season with the club. Samardzija impressed enough during spring training to earn a spot in the Cubs’ rotation (and also benefitted from the unmitigated disaster that was Travis Wood). After finally getting his shot to start, Samardzija can ill-afford to get off to a bad start if he hopes to curry favor with the new coaches. Starting for Washington will be Jordan Zimmermann, who like Garza, posted respectable numbers (ERA 3.18, WHIP 1.15) for a mediocre team (ending up with an 8-11 record).
A couple other items to look for:
-It is still unclear whether Bryan LaHair will be ready to make his season debut after being sidelined with a back injury. Look for him to possibly be ready to go for Sunday’s game.
-Carrying only 11 pitchers right now, it is important the Cubs don’t string together a couple of games where the starting pitcher gets chased early. Even though Ryan Dempster’s strong outing on Opening Day meant the middle and long relief pitchers went unused, the Cubs are playing 9 games in 9 days and will not want to head into the Milwaukee and St. Louis series with a depleted bullpen.
-After a rather chilly day on the opener, the weather forecast for the weekend is great. Highs in the mid-60s should make for a couple of great days at the ballpark.
*Stats are from baseball-reference.com.