Manager: Rick Renteria, first year
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: 1B Anthony Rizzo (.278/.377/.512, 21 doubles, 29 HR, 69 RBIs, 80 R); LF Chris Coghlan (.273/.345/.446, 29 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs); RHP Jake Arrieta (6-4, 2.61 ERA, 1.02 WHIP); RHP Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.48 ERA, 0.95 WHIP)
Season series vs. O’s (2013): Did not play
The Orioles will get to see a number of old friends performing well when they head to Wrigley Field for just the second time in team history and first time since 2008.
This weekend, Baltimore wraps its week in Chicago by facing a last-place Cubs team that isn’t pitching like one, in part because of three former members of the Orioles organization.
Chicago might rank 10th in the National League with a 3.76 team ERA, 11th with a 4.00 starters’ ERA and seventh with a 3.38 bullpen ERA. But in August, the Cubs stand fifth in the NL with a 3.33 ERA behind a strong top of the rotation even after the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.
The Orioles will see the Cubs’ top three starters, two of which they know well - right-handers Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, and left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada.
Arrieta was drafted by Baltimore in the fifth round of the 2007 draft and made his first 69 major league appearances for the team. He was traded to the Cubs with set-up man Pedro Strop for starter Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger in July 2013.
The change of scenery has served Arrieta well, as he has gone 10-6 with a 2.93 ERA in 28 starts over the last two seasons with the Cubs. He had gone 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA in four seasons with the Orioles. This season has seen the 28-year-old rise to NL prominence, as he’s 6-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 19 starts. If he had enough innings to qualify, Arrieta would rank sixth in the NL in ERA.
Arrieta didn’t allowed more than four earned runs in his first 16 starts, permitting more than three only once, going 6-2 with a 2.11 ERA. But he was torched for nine runs and 13 hits in five innings on Aug. 6. He has since rebounded to allow two runs in 14 1/3 innings (1.26 ERA) over his last two starts.
Arrieta faces his former team for the first time this afternoon and will go head-to-head with rookie Kevin Gausman.
Hendricks will take on Bud Norris on Saturday afternoon, looking to continue a tremendous start to his major league career. He made his debut on July 10, allowing four runs in six innings, before joining the rotation for good 12 days later.
The 24-year-old rookie has put together a streak of six consecutive quality starts since July 22, allowing one earned run or fewer in each outing. During that stretch, Hendricks is 5-1 with a 0.84 ERA (four earned runs on 40 hits in 42 2/3 innings).
In Sunday’s series finale, Wada will start opposite Miguel Gonzalez as he pitches against the team that brought him to North America from Japan. The Orioles signed Wada to a two-year contract in December 2011, but he never pitched for the club because of Tommy John surgery in 2012.
He signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in the offseason and earned his way to the majors with an excellent start to the year in Triple-A. He kept that going in the big leagues, going 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA in his first seven starts with Chicago. The 33-year-old lefty has been especially good his last five outings, going 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA (seven runs in 30 1/3 innings).
The bullpen has also been solid for Chicago with Strop being a big part of that. Serving as the set-up man, the former Orioles reliever is 2-4 with a 2.45 ERA in 51 appearances this season.
Offensively, the Cubs have struggled. They have some pop, ranking third in the NL with 121 homers, but they’re 13th with 480 runs and a .238 average, and 11th with a .679 OPS.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro give Chicago a pair of All-Star performers. But Castro is away from the team on the bereavement list following a family tragedy. It is not clear whether he’ll be back this weekend.
Rizzo has built on his breakout 2013, ranking second in the NL with 29 homers, fifth with 80 runs scored and a .512 slugging percentage, sixth with an .888 OPS and eighth with 69 RBIs. After going 18 games without a homer, he has gotten hot recently with three doubles, four homer and seven RBIs in his last 10 games.
Left fielder Chris Coghlan has done a good job since being called up in May, posting a .791 OPS, 29 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs in 90 games.
Rookie infielder Javier Baez is also one to watch after entering the season as one of the top prospects in all of baseball - No. 4 according to Baseball Prospectus, No. 5 according to Baseball America and No. 7 according to MLB.com. The 21-year-old might be batting just .214 with 30 strikeouts in 70 at-bats, but he has two doubles, five homers, nine RBIs and a .714 OPS in his first 17 games.
This hasn’t been the Cubs’ year as they’re on pace to finish last in the NL Central for the second straight season. They’re 12 1/2 games out of a playoff spot and 16 games back in the division.
Chicago has been up and down lately, having lost two in a row and five of eight. But the team is 13-11 since falling a season-high 19 games under .500 at 42-61 on July 27.
The Cubs haven’t been swinging the bats well, failing to score more than four runs since Aug. 7, a streak of 14 straight games. They have scored more than three just twice in that stretch - 35 total (2.7 per game).
In losing five of eight, the pitching has been very hit or miss as well, allowing at least five runs four times and exactly one run three times (32 total).
But the Cubs are throwing a strong, and familiar, set of starters at the Orioles. That should make extending the majors’ largest division lead a bit of a challenge for Baltimore, which is looking to stay hot by capitalizing on facing another sub-.500 foe.