The Chicago Cubs are tied for the second-most home wins in MLB, but Friday's Windy City showdown with the White Sox isn't going to be a walk in the park at Wrigley Field.
Despite being in one of the toughest divisions in baseball and dealing with a couple key players out of late, the Sox have rattled off five straight wins to improve to 15-11, including 8-3 on the road.
Can the Cubbies fend off the Southsiders and defend their northern turf? For more on this matchup, keep reading the rest of abe Insights' preview, which provides analysis of the main betting lines, the best odds available, key stats and more.
Date: Friday, August 21
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: White Sox 53%; Cubs 50%
Spread: CHW -1.5 (+145); CHC +1.5 (-160)
Moneyline: CHW -111; CHC +102
A pitching duel of southpaws is on tap for Friday between two decorated vets, as White Sox dealer Dallas Keuchel squares off with Jon Lester. Keuchel is a past Cy Young Award winner with a 3-2 record and 3.07 ERA in his maiden year in Chicago, while Lester has bounced back from a down 2019 campaign with a 2.74 ERA in four starts.
Both sides have a fair share of injuries going around, though. Prodigious Sox outfielder Luis Robert has missed the last two contests with a hand injury, and the visitors have missed catcher Yasmani Grandal (back stiffness) for the past three. The Cubs haven't had slumping slugger Kris Bryant (wrist) for their most recent three games, either.
5.7 vs. 4.9: FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement statistic ranks the Sox lineup as the No. 1 offense in baseball, reflected in the first figure. Despite Bryant's year-long struggles, enough Cubs have picked up the slack to rank sixth in MLB in this area.
11.9 vs. 7.3: Only Cleveland draws a higher percentage of walks than the Bears, whereas the ChiSox have the third-lowest rate of bases on balls. Patience in the batter's box could be key to the outcome with two outstanding pitchers on the mound.
3.88 vs. 4.80: Then again, the game may be decided if and when Keuchel and Lester make their exits. In Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), Cubbies relievers rank in MLB's bottom third, while the Sox bullpen is elite, placing fourth with the lower number here.
Although the Cubs have plenty of pop in their bats, they've managed to manufacture runs and wins as a result of a higher on-base percentage. With their Friday opponent, it's much more of a risk-reward approach to the plate, as the Sox' .459 slugging percentage is second to the Yankees in the league.
To focus primarily on the pitchers beginning this contest, it's impressive to see how Keuchel has adjusted his tactics in 2020 thus far. Using FanGraphs' data, we can see how he's using his pure fastball less than ever, with an increasing reliance on his cutter (30.9%) and changeup (27.7%).
Keuchel has been steadily upping his cutter usage over the past few years, so that's not as surprising, but that changeup rate is almost double his 2019 rate of 14.5%. Even his leadership in the clubhouse has translated to more winning of late, showing Keuchel's value on the field and off as a past World Series champion.
The only noticeable alteration in Lester's pitches is lower curveball reliance and a slight bump in changeups, yet that's made a big difference. After last year's 1.50 WHIP number — the worst since his rookie season — Lester is at 0.87 now. Because of Keuchel's more drastic changes to his approach, though, the White Sox' superior sluggers should have a better scouting report on Lester, which could sway the decision Keuchel's way.
On the other hand, Wrigley Field has been kind to the Cubbies in 2020, and for as much batting talent as the home team has, it seems impossible that they're hitting only .228 as a team. There's enough collective upside in manager David Ross' batting order to tag Keuchel, the Sox strong bullpen, or both.
Given how multiple key stars are harboring injuries for both clubs and how strong Keuchel and Lester have proven to be for years on end, the betting public is likely to side with the Under run total — at least for Friday's affair.
The Cubbies are finding their footing of late, winning three of four after a four-game slide. Thanks to a more proven core of players and the run line being the safer bet based on the odds, look for the Cubs' spread and moneyline to garner the majority of wagers.
Note: Odds current as of 2:05 p.m. ET on Friday, August 21.
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