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Meet Javier and Jorge. Cardinals vs. Cubs preview: August 29-31

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The Cardinals (71-61) and Cubs (59-74) play four games in three days at Busch. Enter two characters the Cubs hope will grow into central actors in the ancient rivalry.

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The Stuff of Nightmare
The Stuff of Nightmare
Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports
Schedule

  • Shelby Miller and Kyle Hendricks pitch tonight at 7:15 (all times central).
  • Justin Masterson and Felix Doubront get game one tomorrow at 1:15.
  • Marco Gonzales (probably) and Tsuyoshi Wada have game two tomorrow at 7:15.
  • John Lackey and Travis Wood will finish up Sunday at 1:15.

Introducing

Let's start with the Cardinals:

Meet Yadier Molina.

Goodness, it will be good to have him back. (Refresher on his injury here.) He has rejoined the team and could start this evening. Tony Cruz has a .195/.267/.236 line on the year. That's better than Adam Wainwright, but not as good as Shelby Miller, which is to say, terrible. AJ Pierzynski's bat has been ok, but lie Cruz has not been on the same planet defensively as Yadi. It will be interesting to see if Cruz gets any playing time at all going forward or if Pierzynski gets all of Molina's off-days. It's hard to know exactly what to expect from Yadi. His catching hand was not the one injured, but will he be able to snap off throws? Will his batting be affected? There have been players who recovered from this specific injury and immediately raked (2013 Hanley Ramirez), and Yadi hit well in his two rehab games, but Molina isn't the youngest of birds. Either way, things will be better at catcher.

Meet Shelby Miller, sinkerballer, maybe.

If you missed the news, Shelby Miller toyed with Justin Masterson's sinker grip, liked how it felt before the game, and proceeded to use it as often as his fourseam fastball last outing. Catch up in Ben Humphrey's post here. It will be interesting to see if Shelby features it as regularly tonight. If he does and is successful, he might continue with it going forward, but it's likely not lodged into his repertoire yet, so a bad outing could lead to junking the pitch. It's nearly September, and tonight could represent something of a fork in the road for Shelby Miller's career.

Meet Marco Gonzales for another cup of coffee.

Per Rick Hummel's glance at the upcoming series on StlToday, Marco Gonzales will be the man getting game two of tomorrow's double-header. Since we last saw him at the beginning of July, the 22 year-old has had mixed results in AAA. He put up 39 K's against 9 walks in 45 innings, but he's also allowed 7 HR.  Whether or not he looks ready tomorrow, it will be fun seeing his changeup again. Revisit his interview with VEB's Joe Schwarz here.

Meet Justin Masterson, starter, possibly for the last time.

You know the drill. Other than one marvelous start in Miami, Masterson has been just terrible. Many wondered if his last start, a five runs in three innings affair against the Phillies, would mark the end of his tenure in the rotation, but he will get another shot at showing that he can keep his Rube Goldberg Machine mechanics in line tomorrow. Mike Matheny thinks he's "close," for whatever that's worth to you. I hope he's right. I think Masterson will be a good pitcher again, but time is running out for that to happen in 2014.

Morning edit: Check out this column by Derrick Goold. Masterson might pitch exclusively out of the stretch tomorrow in an effort to simplify his mechanics. A starter pitching throwing solely out of the stretch? Shelby Miller leaning on a sinker? What's next? Bears and Birds cohabitating?

Now, The Cubs.

Hooboy.

What's the Cubs team that haunts you in your weaker moments? It's 1989 for me. The Cardinals were pretty good! Ozzie, Vince, Willie, Jose Oquendo's best season, Tony Pena's beautiful defense and bizarre squat, folk heroes Pedro Guerrero and Milt Thompson. Awesome seasons from Jose DeLeon and Joe Magrane. I loved that team. I was nine years old and I loved that team, and the Cubs kicked their teeth in. Sandberg, Dawson, Grace, Dunston, Dwight Smith in his incredible rookie season. Greg Maddux, Rick Sutcliffe, Mike Bielicki, and Mitch Williams. Just terrifying. I still get angry thinking about them, but I'm glad they existed. It's not easy to pour all of your emotions into rooting for a hero facing an under-armed villain. You know why I bring this up, of course.

Meet Javier Baez

Second-baseman Javier Baez is unlikely to put together an overly impressive statline this series, though he's probably going to leave quite an impression anyhow. The consensus top-5 prospect has monumental power and monumental problems not swinging when he shouldn't. He's going to strike out a ton even at his peak, but now he's striking out 45% of the time. If he can't improve significantly on that number, his otherworldly bat speed won't matter. But if he improves his discipline, he could be a generational talent. I've seen a good number of his major league at-bats, and they include an opposite-field homerun off the end of his bat, two homeruns that made it to Waveland Avenue, and a 400 foot flyout on a 102 mph pitch from Aroldis Chapman. He's just 21, and he's, well, different.

(1:30pm edit: Ben Lindbergh over at Grantland just published this excellent piece on Baez.)

Meet Jorge Soler

Jorge Soler is a monster. At just 22 years old, he has Carlos Gomez' mature frame, and the Cubs aren't going to waste several years trying to turn him into a slap hitter. The Cuban defector signed a 9 year deal with the Cubs in 2012 and has done nothing but hit when he's been on the field since. He's had some trouble staying healthy with a fracture in 2013 and hamstring issues early in 2014, but if that's a concern it also makes it more impressive that he flew through the minors so quickly. He's the complete package offensively, with strong contact skills, a good eye, and very good power.  He has some speed and a strong arm. I feel like this paragraph isn't terrifying enough. Here.

Let's move on.

Meet Felix Doubront, et al.

OK, there's nothing too terrifying about Felix Doubront. He's a lefty with decent stuff and command problems. What's terrifying is what he represents: The Cubs' pitching coaches developed Jeff Samardzija from a reliever into a deserving all-star, fixed Jason Hammel, and rubbed the tarnish off of Jake Arrieta to reveal a shiny ace. The inevitable question when discussing the intimidating prospects in the Cubs' system has always been "But where will they get pitching?" Blazing success with three pitchers isn't predictive yet, but if Felix Doubront or the similaly recently-acquired-for-nothing-of-value Jacob Turner are good next year, the question will be at least partially answered: they'll build it with crap they find in the scrap heap. And oh yeah, control and sink artist Kyle Hendricks has been good so far, and so has Tsuyoshi Wada, a lefty with five pitches, including a splitter.

Wada: 45 IP, 8.08 K/9, 2.17 K.9, 2.56 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 3.61 xFIP

Hendricks: 50 IP, 5.51 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, 50.3% GB, 1.78 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 3.82 xFIP

We don't have to meet Kris Bryant yet, though he stands a good chance of being the best of all the Cubs' prospects, and Addison Russell is a bit farther off yet, but Anthony Rizzo is going to end the year leading NL 1B's in fWAR, and Starlin Castro is good again.

Look, if you want to dismiss prospects until you've seen them have success in the Majors, that's fine, but recognize that not all good prospects are created equal, and the Cubs group looks very intimidating indeed. If you're not worried about the future because "but they're the Cubs, LOLOLOL," consider the Red Sox were an LOL team before 2004. Things change. The 2014 Cubs haven't looked terribly intimidating, but it's time to recognize that the climate is shifting quickly now, and even the 2015 NL Central crown doesn't appear to have any particularly staunch defender.

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