Since the beginning of the season, the Chicago Cubs have been as good as advertised, probably better. At 29-13, they have the best record in baseball despite winning just four of their last 11 games. Their run-differential of 110 is enormous, and the best in baseball. By BaseRuns, the Cubs are an even better 31-11. Of course, by BaseRuns, the Cardinals are actually an excellent 29-15 and underperforming their record by six games. St. Louis does not have the firepower to match them top to bottom, but the Cardinals should destroy the Cubs.
The last time the Cardinals and Cubs played, the Cardinals took one of three games, when Carlos Martinez pitches seen strong innings and gave up one run on an Anthony Rizzo solo shot. The Cubs have adjusted to the loss of Kyle Schwarber by increasing the playing time of Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. Neither Baez nor Soler has gotten off to strong starts this season, but Baez has more defensive versatility that is even more important currently with Jason Heyward out.
The Cubs got good news on Heyward after what looked to be a tough tumble in San Francisco although it is not clear that Heyward will play this series. He avoided the disabled list so the Cubs could be playing a man down, although it appears they will be down in the bullpen as Neil Ramirez was let go and activated Matt Szczur. Ben Zobrist could play out in right field putting Baez at second, like they did on Saturday, or Szczur could get a few more starts.
The Cubs have an incredibly patient team, with only Baez among regulars to post a walk rate under 10% on the season so far. Controlling the strike zone will be very important for Cardinals pitchers. Dexter Fowler has slowed down a bit since his incredible start, but has still been a weapon on offense. Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo have all been excellent while Addison Russell is a very good young shortstop coming into his own.
The Cubs are sending John Lackey to the mound tonight. The former Cardinals starter is having another solid season with 52 strikeouts and against 12 walks in 54.1 innings. He's gone at least six innings in all but one start this season, and in his first game against the Cardinals this season he struck out 11 against just one walk in seven shutout innings. He is still much the same pitcher he was with the Cardinals, going mostly with his fastballs (fourseam, twoseam, and cutter), along with an occasional curve. The Cardinals will be sending Adam Wainwright to the mound, who pitched much better in his last start by dropping his arm angle a bit and keeping the ball lower. He will need to pitch in the lower part of the strike zone to be effective against the Cubs.
On Tuesday, Jason Hammel will go for the Cubs. Hammel has posted a curiously high walk rate up near 10% on the season. He has not been punished for that walk rate due to a low .280 BABIP and a 7% HR/FB rate that has caused an 84% LOB rate. His two home runs to the Brewers were only his second and third given up all year. In his first start against the Cardinals, he threw six innings, struck out six and walked none giving up just one run in the process. The Cardinals will send Michael Wacha against the Cubs. Wacha has been roughed up in each of his last three starts, not making it through five innings in his last two. His 3.48 FIP is still solid, but he could use a bit more luck on balls in play.
In the finale, the Cardinals will face Jake Arrieta for the first time this season. Arrieta has been excellent again this season with number in line with his performance last season. Arrieta destroys righties and lefties so there is not much of an advantage to be gained by deploying a lefty-heavy lineup. Carlos Martinez has struggled since losing weight after an illness and has gone just 13.1 over his last three starts with seven strikeouts and nine walks.
The Cardinals still sit seven games behind the Cubs in the division so even taking two of three would only net them a game in the standings. After this series, the Cubs do not return to St. Louis until September, although the Cardinals will visit Chicago next month. The Cubs performance, just like it has all season, should be good enough to win most days. The Cardinals have been less consistent, and the wild card this series will be the performance of the starters. All three are capable, but have not been able to put it together consistently this season.
Tonight's game is at 7:15 pm and will be on Fox Sports Midwest.
Tuesday's game is at 6:10 pm and will be on Fox Sports Midwest as well as ESPN.
Wednesday's game is at 12:45 pm and will be on Fox Sports Midwest.
Enjoy the series!