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Series Preview: Cardinals at Cubs July 25-27

The Cardinals visit the Cubs to kick off 36 games remaining within the NL Central.

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
The Schedule
  • Joe Kelly and Travis Wood start game one at 3:05 central this afternoon.
  • Shelby Miller and Jake Arrieta pitch tomorrow at 3:05.
  • Adam Wainwright and Kyle Hendricks get game three at 1:20.

The Cardinals and Cubs haven't met since the Cards took two of three at Busch in mid-May. At the beginning of that series, the Cubs we already twelve games under .500. Now they're eighteen under, while the Cardinals moved from .500 to seven games up. And yet, I can't help but think that  in some ways the Cubs have had the more successful season thus far.

First, and probably most importantly, Anthony Rizzo now looks for all the world like a guy who is going to hit lots of baseballs very hard for a long time. He has a .285/.389/.539 line and a good shot at 40 homers this year. He's not 25 yet. Starlin Castro, somehow also not yet 25, has had a solid year as well. His .272/.325/.431 line is a huge improvement from last year's disappointment.

And the minor league infant bear hit squad has continued their widely reported assault on the collective psyche of the rest of the NL Central. No, they haven't all blown away or even met expectations, but as a group they've done nothing to set my mind at ease. We know the names: Bryant, Baez, Almora, Soler. They're terrifying enough. Kris Bryant has blue eyes, a congenial smile, and the heart of man who murders baseballs, because it's his heart, and that's what he does. Baez started off slowly, but is now working out at 2B and his bat is coming around in AAA. Jorge Soler has dealt with some injury setbacks, but now has a 1.355 OPS in AA. All three of those players will be on the Cubs, and soon.  Albert Almora is a little farther off.

But here's the stuff of nightmares. The guy on the pre-season lists after those four was Arismendy Alcantara. He doesn't have quite the upside of the other four, but he's fast, and has some pop and a strong hit tool. He's had a great season and is now in the big leagues. Time to say hello. And, of course, the Cubs turned Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel into Addison Russell, who could be a 20-20 guy soon with a good enough glove to push Starlin Castro off short. Oh, and what the hell, let's talk about this, too: The Cubs just drafted Kyle Schwarber with the fourth pick in the draft last month. He has already moved up from low A to A to high A, and he's done nothing but hit. He's a polished college bat like Bryant, and will have a chance to progress just as quickly.

Are you counting? Let's do it. Rizzo, Castro, Russell, Bryant, Baez, Soler, Almora, Alcantara, Schwarber. That's nine. There are going to be some busts, but if three of those guys end up near their ceilings and three more are just pretty good, that's going to be a very good baseball team.

And the Cardinals' 2014? The team is good, but not as good as we hoped. And Wacha is hurt, Shelby unfixed, Martinez still raw, Yadi and Holliday and Craig are aging, and Oscar is lost at sea. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't swap the franchises if I could, but I think the Cubs are getting more out of 2014 relative to their hopes and dreams than the Cardinals are, and I also think that at some point after the Addison Russell trade, John Mozeliak was heard muttering "we're gonna need a bigger boat" while shuffling papers at his desk.

The Cardinals and Cubs play two more series after this, and I'll try to keep it to the major league squads when I preview them, though when the Sept. 22 series rolls around, I might have to go over some of those names again in a new light.

Let's talk about now, ok? Now can't be a scary as the future.

Counterpoint: Yes, it can.

We need to talk about Jake Arrieta. He always had good stuff, but he also always had poor control which lead to a lot of walks and dingers. Now he just has the former. You know that one weird trick the Pirates pulled off with Francisco Liriano before last year? The Cubs did it to Arrieta, and he's not just good; he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. I could tell you about it, but read this instead. The short version is that he's throwing a slidery cutter thing 40% of the time, it's awesome, and he has great command now. And he's not a free agent until 2018. The Cubs coaches deserve credit for Arrieta and Samardzija's development and Jason Hammel too, and I think the answer to "yeah, they have all those great hitting prospects, but where will they find pitching?" might just be that they're going to grow them in petri dishes from cuttings of career mediocrities, and they're going to take over the world with them.

So. Watch Arrieta, watch Alcantara, watch Rizzo, and watch Castro. And start feeding your old Cub loathing that you haven't really had to let off leash for several years, and teach that loathing those faces, those names.

Who the hell is that?

That's Kyle Hendricks! He's not likely to be anything special, but he's going to get a shot with Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija shipped off to Oakland. He's a control-oriented groundball guy who had good numbers in the PCL. He doesn't throw terribly hard or have overpowering stuff, but looks to have a chance to stick around. Here's a detailed piece on him from John Sickels.


  • Remember that PLATOON piece I wrote earlier this week? I think given his change in approach, the career splits from Arrieta should be ignored, but the Travis Wood game should be all righties on deck. Bench Oscar today, Mike. Enjoy it. But start him this weekend. Also, free gorgeous Bourjos.
  • After this series, the Cardinals will have four games in Busch against the Cubs in the last days of August, and then three more at Wrigley Sept. 22-24.
  • Losing those two games to the Rays didn't seem so bad. Waino had a bad start and then Cobb had one of the better games I've seen all year. This kind of thing happens, and it shouldn't tarnish what's been a pretty good July.
  • The next six games are against the Cubs and Padres before it's time to face the Brewers and move on to August. And, of course, the trade deadline is looming. The next week and a half will be interesting.

Keys to the Series

Beware the dangers of moral certainty.


Editor's Note: Oh, hi there. It's me, Aaron Finkel. You might know me from such articles as "Cardinals vs Rays gamethread, July 22" and "Cardinals vs Rays gamethread, July 23." I'm here today to tell you about an exciting new opportunity offered by FANDUEL. SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 Fantasy Baseball league for tonight's MLB games. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Jump in now. Here's the FanDuel link for today's games. The Cardinals might not be able to trade for David Price and, I dunno, Mark Trumbo, but that doesn't mean you can't. Try FANDUEL today!