The Cubs are supposedly an unstoppable force on their way to the division title. That was thought in the preseason after a 97-win campaign that saw young players step up along with the free agent acquisitions of Jason Heyward, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist. In fact, that is still the thought after the Cubs roared off to a hot start that sees them several games clear of the rest of the division after just a couple weeks. Of course, much of that means little for this particular series as the Cardinals face the Cubs because the Cardinals should destroy the Cubs.
The Cubs have an incredibly deep club on the position-player side. The team already lost Kyle Schwarber to an unfortunate knee injury, but they have Jorge Soler and Javier Baez already stepping in for that loss. Baez provides the Cubs with great flexibilty, potentially playing any infield or outfield position while Soler has great power he could tap into at any time. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are fantastic players. Zobrist is solid and Addison Russell is emerging as a fixture at shortstop. Dexter Fowler fell in to the Cubs' lap at the tail end of free agency and he is solid as well. Throw in Miguel Montero and it is a team without any holes.
There is also Jason Heyward in his first trip back to St. Louis. Will he get booed? Maybe. While it is true that Heyward turned down a larger guarantee from the Cardinals to sign with the Cubs, it is very likely that the financial package the Cubs offered Heyward was much more appealing with nearly $80 million packed into the first three years of the contract if he opts out and likely a higher annual salary than the Cardinals offered. Heyward is a great player, although just like last season, he appears to be off to a slow start. It would not surprise me if Heyward were booed given the false and unnecessary narrative about the aging Cardinals and the young Cubs being the reason for signing with the Cubs, but hopefully there is no reaction at all.
On the pitching side, the Cubs have two very good, often great pitchers in Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. After those two, the Cubs rotation is deep, but very average. John Lackey's signing with the Cubs will provide the Cardinals with an extra draft pick this year, and the salty bulldog figures to put up a solid season with the Cubs. He got roughed up in his first start, but struck out 7 against three walks versus the Reds in his outing. He gets the initial game squaring off against Mike Leake.
Jason Hammel gets game two for the Cubs and he is another solid pitcher. Over his first two starts he has struggled with walks, but the Diamondbacks and Reds were unable to capitalize as Hammel has given up just one run due to a 93% left-on-base rate. Hammel will go up against Jaime Garcia, who just pitched the game of his life against the Brewers, finishing a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts.
Drawing the final game against the Cardinals is Kyle Hendricks, another solid pitcher. Hendricks has pitched well this year after a solid campaign last season. Hendricks has not yet consistently shown the ability to pitch deep into games, failing to hit six innings in 18 of 32 starts last year. It is possible he has turned a corner in that department as four out of his last five starts in 2015, he went at least six innings as well as both of this starts this year. It is probably too early to draw concrete conclusions, Hendricks has had difficulties with lefty batters in the past although a new change might have righted that area, but the Cardinals do have a lot of lefties available. Hendricks will face off against Carlos Martinez.
The Cubs are a very good team with very good players, but two of their very best players will not have any impact on this series as Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester sit this one out. The Cardinals offense appears better than in years past with Brandon Moss shoring up the hole that has been first base, Matt Holliday doing Matt Holliday things, and maybe even Yadier Molina getting back to average as a hitter. Leake against Lackey is a tossup, but the Cardinals have the pitching advantage with Garcia-Hammel and Martinez-Hendricks. Given all the available evidence, I feel comfortable saying the Cardinals should destroy the Cubs.