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NLWC Preview: Freeland vs Lester

Rockies (91-72) vs Cubs (95-68)

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to MLB’s second season, as we start off with 10 teams and whittle them down to one final World Series Champion. There is definitely some argument against today’s Wild Card Game being considered a part of the Postseason, but instead just another play-in game like yesterday’s. But considering the stats to these games don’t count towards the regular season, we’ll call this the official start of the Postseason. Or it can be in the in-between season. Whatever floats your boat.

Everything gets started with tonight’s National League Wild Card Game, where the Colorado Rockies head to the north side of Chicago to take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Gametime is at 8:00 ET, although first pitch will probably be closer to 8:15.

Rockies’ Starter

The Rockies send their Ace Kyle Freeland to the mound. For the season, Freeland went 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA, a very impressive number considering his home park. Freeland doesn’t strike out many, nor does he limit walks in any special way. He does, however, keep the ball in the ballpark fairly well. He allowed 0.76 home runs per 9 innings this year, aided by a somewhat groundball oriented approach and a low HR/FB. His HR/9 rate is 0.4 below the league average, which places him 7th among all 57 qualified pitchers.

The left handed Freeland gets by with a low 90s fastball that he can both cut and sink, giving hitters a few different looks. He complements those pitches with a changeup that comes in around 86 mph, and a slow slider that swoops in around 80, which is his out pitch.

Freeland faced the Cubs just once this year, back at the end of April. He went 7 strong innings at Wrigley Field, surrendering 3 runs on 6 hits, walking 1 and striking out 5.

Cubs’ Starter

The Cubs counter with MLB Postseason vet Jon Lester. Lester went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA this season, a significant improvement on his 4.33 ERA last season. However, his FIP was at a career worst 4.36 in 2018, as his strikeout rate dropped and he allowed more flyballs, which resulted in more home runs.

Lester has had to learn how to pitch the last few seasons with a diminished fastball. Once sitting in the 93-94 mph range, the 34 year old now sits 91-92, and his fastball doesn’t have the same effectiveness it once had. However, his changeup has done better this year than it has since his early Boston days, although he doesn’t use it as much as his cutter and curveball, both good secondaries as well.

Lester went head to head with Freeland in that late April game, the only time Lester faced the Rockies this season as well. In that game, Lester was removed after 5.2 innings, allowing 2 unearned runs on 5 hits and 3 walks, striking out 5. He was removed after a couple runners got on base, on a walk and an error. The Cubs scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 6th and won the game 3-2, but Lester didn’t get the win.

Rockies’ Lineup

The probable lineup, based on, with wRC+ from Fangraphs right after.

CF Charlie Blackmon - 116
2B DJ LeMahieu - 86
LF David Dahl - 109
3B Nolan Arenado - 132
SS Trevor Story - 127
RF Carlos Gonzalez - 97
1B Ian Desmond - 81
C Chris Ianetta - 84
P Kyle Freeland - (-56)

Roster Resource lists CarGo in a platoon with Matt Holliday, but I’m not sure Holliday will be in RF for a do or die game. I’m sure we’ll see fairly shortly.

The Rockies finished second in the NL in Runs scored this year, averaging 4.79 per game.

Cubs’ Lineup

The probable lineup, based on, with wRC+ from Fangraphs right after. This one is a bit tougher, as Maddon will move his lineup around a lot more often, especially with a lefty on the mound and several lefties featuring prominently throughout. But here’s my guess, which is likely wrong.

2B Daniel Murphy -110
RF Ben Zobrist -123
SS Javier Baez - 131
1B Anthony Rizzo - 125
3B Kris Bryant - 125
CF Albert Almora - 89
C Willson Contreras - 100
P Jon Lester - (-31)
LF Ian Happ - 106

If I had to guess what’s most wrong is Daniel Murphy leading off against a lefty. We’ll probably see Almora in the leadoff spot, and maybe Kris Bryant batting higher up too.

The Cubs placed 6th in the NL in runs scored, averaging 4.67 per game.

Find the Link

Regular season Find the Link is officially over. WarningTrakPower is the big winner. I will try to get the full standings into the comments at some point today.

Now that we’re into the Playoffs, we’ll start a fresh round of FTL, with a clear leaderboard.

Find the link between Freeland, Lester and the US Founding Fathers.