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2023 Cubs Road Trip Preview: Philadelphia

1 year agoAndy Martinez

The Cubs continue their three-city road trip with the final leg, a three-game set against the Phillies. Last season, the Cubs were a perfect 6-0 against the eventual NL Champion Phillies last season and hold the all-time series lead (1,262-1,137). The Cubs will hope to halt their season-high, 5-game losing streak

Philadelphia is off to a slow start (20-23), but their lineup is deep — and loaded with familiar faces. Ex-Cubs Kyle Schwarber (10 home runs) and Nick Castellanos (5 HR, .826 OPS) steady the middle of the order and free agent signing Trea Turner and center fielder Brandon Marsh have provided a spark. Oh, and former MVP Bryce Harper (Tommy John surgery) returned recently to the lineup, deepening their firepower.

The Phillies will likely trot out two of their star starters, although they have struggled to start the year.

Pitching probables

Friday: RHP Marcus Stroman vs. LHP Ranger Suárez

Saturday: RHP Jameson Taillon vs. RHP Aaron Nola

Sunday: LHP Justin Steele vs. RHP Zack Wheeler

Stroman will look to bounce back after his shortest outing of the year in which he went just 2.2 innings, allowing 6 runs on 7 hits and a pair of walks on Sunday in Minnesota. The righty has been dependable as ever for the most part this year, posting a 2.28 ERA before that start, so the Cubs will hope he can return to form quickly.

Saturday’s start should finally see Taillon go without a pitch limit. The righty landed on the injured list with a right groin strain in late April, came back without a rehab assignment and has been building back up in each of his last three outings. In Tuesday’s loss to the Astros, the righty went 4.2 innings, his longest since he was activated.

This season Steele has been the Cubs’ best starter, but on Wednesday he ran into some trouble, allowing 5 runs (season-high) on 5 hits in 6 innings against the Astros. He was battling “flu-like” symptoms, per manager David Ross, so his ability to pitch deep into the game was still crucial for a depleted Cubs’ bullpen.

Nola and Wheeler were stellar for the Phillies as they charged to the World Series last year but haven’t been at that same level this year. Nola (4.53 ERA) and Wheeler (4.06) have shown signs of weakness, so the Cubs will look to take advantage. Suárez made his first start of the year on Saturday (4 innings, 7 hits, 3 earned runs) after he suffered a left elbow strain during the World Baseball Classic.

Quote of the Week

The Cubs seemingly had a prime opportunity to pick up a win over the Astros and snap a 4-game losing streak, but they squandered a 6-1 lead in the 8th inning and suffered their fifth consecutive defeat.

“We’ve gotta win that game. We gotta pitch better on the back end. Offense did enough tonight. Played good defense. I thought overall, really nice plays. We’ve gotta cash that one in.” – David Ross

Storylines to keep an eye on

– Nico Hoerner could be activated from the injured list on Friday. Both Ross and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer hinted that he would be activated on Friday, the first day he was eligible to come off. The top of the Cubs’ lineup will get a spark with his activation, but will the corresponding move be? Miles Mastrobuoni was recalled from Iowa when he landed on the injured list.

– How will the bullpen perform in Philadelphia? The Cubs were forced to use their bullpen heavily in Minnesota following short stints and that carried over to Houston where they made roster moves to try and inject some life into their depleted bullpen. When they had the lead in the finale against the Astros, the bullpen failed to hang on. How the bullpen pitches will be a key angle to follow.

– On that front, which starting pitching will the Cubs get? Part of the bullpen’s recent struggles stems from short starts from their starters. If the Cubs can have a deep, strong outing from Stroman, Taillon and/or Steele, that could do wonders for their bullpen and put them in a situation to win a difficult series.

– The offensive sparks that Christopher Morel and Seiya Suzuki have provided have been important for the Cubs — will that continue? Suzuki homered in 3 straight at-bats against Houston, becoming the first Cub to do so since Kris Bryant in 2019 and the first Japanese-born player to do so. When Morel connects on a home run, they’ve been no-doubters, all over 400 feet.

– The Cubs’ return to Philadelphia will be a homecoming of sorts for reliever Mark Leiter Jr., who debuted in the big leagues with the Phillies and grew up in nearby New Jersey. Leiter will have family in town for the series.

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