Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

Phillies-Cubs series primed to feature memorable pitching matchups

Cole Hamels is one of the most popular Phillies ever. (Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs will both enter a four-game series at Wrigley Field this week in first place in their respective divisions. If that isn’t enough to get you juiced for this series, perhaps the pitching matchups will be.

After the Cubs play on Sunday Night Baseball against the Nationals, they’ll return to the Windy City with a familiar friend waiting for them. Jake Arrieta won the 2015 National League Cy Young Award with the Cubs and was a key cog in the 2016 team that ended a 108-year World Series drought. Monday evening, he’s slated to pitch against the Cubs for the first time since leaving Chicago in free-agency after the 2017 season.

What’s more, not only will Arrieta make his return to Wrigley Field Monday, but he’ll square off with Yu Darvish, who Cubs president Theo Epstein ostensibly chose to sign ahead of the 2018 season instead of retaining Arrieta.

“If I’m trying to show something, I always go bad,” Darvish told the collective media, including Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, after his most recent start. “That’s why I want to be myself. He’s a legend in Chicago, for sure, so I respect that. I’m really looking forward to facing him.”

Arrieta, 33, will be looking to get back on track, as he has a 5.79 ERA over his last five starts. But for as much as there may be grumbling about how Arrieta’s time in Philadelphia has gone thus far, he’s owed “just” $20 million after the 2019 season. Darvish – who was limited to just eight starts in 2018 – has a 5.14 ERA and 5.53 FIP in nine starts in 2019. A four-time All-Star, Darvish, 32, is due $81 million through the 2023 season.

While the Arrieta-Darvish matchup may be most intriguing to Cubs fans, Wednesday’s pitching matchup may be more of interest in Philadelphia.

Earlier this month, Phillies rookie lefty Cole Irvin made his major league debut exactly 13 years after Cole Hamels debuted for the Phillies. Wednesday, Irvin will make his third career major league start, with Hamels set to pitch for the Cubs.

Hamels, 35, was a first-round pick by the Phillies in the 2002 MLB Draft. That proved to be one of the best selections in franchise history. In parts of 10 seasons in red pinstripes, Hamels made three All-Star Game appearances and finished in the top 10 in National League Cy Young Award voting four times. Most notably, Hamels went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts in 2008, guiding the Phillies to their second World Series title and winning the World Series MVP in the process.

The Phillies traded Hamels to the Texas Rangers in July of 2015, where he played until the Rangers traded him to Chicago last July. Though the Rangers and Cubs have played against the Phillies with Hamels on their roster, Wednesday will mark the first time that Hamels has ever pitched against the Phillies. In nine starts in 2019, Hamels is 4-0 with a 3.13 ERA, 4.00 FIP and 0.9 fWAR.

Tuesday night won’t be a shabby pitching matchup either. Zach Eflin, who has two complete games in his last four starts, will get the ball for the Phillies, with Joe Maddon slated to send lefty Jose Quintana to the rubber. Quintana is 4-3 with a 3.68 ERA, 3.81 FIP and 0.9 fWAR in 2019.

And if pitching is really something you’re into, Thursday’s matinee at Wrigley Field is on pace to see Aaron Nola square off with Jon Lester. Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2018, turned in his best outing of the season Saturday, tying a career-high with 12 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over the Rockies. Lester, 35, is one of this era’s most accomplished pitchers and has a minuscule 2.09 ERA in eight starts in 2019.

The 27-19 Phillies are hoping to return to the postseason in 2019 for the first time since 2011. As Gabe Kapler’s team continues a stretch of 17 games in 17 days, a four-game set this week with the Cubs should be a pretty good measuring stick.


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