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Cardinals next three games are against the Cubs

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A Series Preview

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals are in first place. A look at the standings shows them ahead of the second-place Cincinnati Reds by one game, the third-place Milwaukee Brewers by two games, and the fourth-place Chicago Cubs by two-and-a-half games. Those fourth-place Cubs are headed to St. Louis for a three-game series starting this evening.

Narratives develop over the course of the season, sometimes seasons, whether it is Cardinals hitting being clutch, Cardinals pitching being clutch, bad defense and baserunning, poor managing, can’t win on the road, can’t win at home—that sort of thing. Narratives haven’t quite taken hold this season, but I can sort of feel one coming on: the Cardinals can’t beat good teams.

Over the first 12 games of the season, the Cardinals played the fourth-place Cubs, the first-place Washington Nationals, the first-place New York Yankees, and the Reds. Three of those four teams are considered to be very good, and the Cardinals went 3-9. Since that 3-9 start, the Cardinals have gone 16-5. Most, if not all those wins have come against teams that aren’t very good. The last two road sweeps were over the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins, teams with a combined 24-40 record.

If the Cardinals do poorly against the fourth-place Cubs this weekend or struggle against the Red Sox next week or in the two series against the Dodgers later this month, we can expect that narrative to take some shape. It won’t necessarily be wrong, but it is also rather obvious as beating good teams is harder than beating easier teams. If the Cardinals can take care of business against bad teams, it really won’t matter if they can’t beat the good ones. They will still make the playoffs.

As for the fourth-place Cubs, they have struggled of late, being swept by the same Yankees team that swept the Cardinals, and losing two of three to the Rockies. That said, the fourth-place Cubs are still a good baseball team. They are currently missing Jason Heyward as he is on the disabled list. Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, and Addison Russell have struggled while Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist have played below expectations. That probably won’t continue all year.

On the pitching side, Brett Anderson was sent to the disabled list after recording just one out in his last start. Replacing him will be Eddie Butler, a 26-year-old righty who was in the Rockies organization before this year. He’s gotten roughly a year’s worth of starts in the majors and performed very poorly. In Triple-A this season, he has a shiny ERA and a decent FIP, but that is mostly because he hasn’t allowed a home run. He has just 17 strikeouts in 30.2 Triple-A innings, which is pretty consistent with his peformance in the majors thus far. In the past he’s paired a low-90s fastball with a slider and the rare curve or change. Mike Leake will pitch for the Cardinals.

On Saturday, Jon Lester is scheduled to pitch for Chicago. Lester is pitching just as well as he always has. I’d still like to see the Cardinals take unfathomable leads off him, but nobody seems able to perfect a strategy because it feels to weird or something. Lester’s velocity is down slightly from last season, and his walks are up a bit, but nothing to get too alarmed about. In his last start, the lefty struck out nine against just two walks against the Yankees, giving up two runs. Carlos Martinez will pitch for the Cardinals in a rematch of Opening Night, which was the last time the Cardinals beat the fourth-place Cubs.

On Sunday, Jake Arrieta takes the mound. Arrieta has struggled this season with a loss of velocity. The pending free agent has turned from a ground ball machine to a fly ball pitcher. He’s got good strikeout and walk numbers, but has been hurt by the homer and an unlucky BABIP and left-on-base percentage, causing a 5.35 ERA despite a 3.78 FIP. Adam Wainwright will pitch for the Cardinals.

Tonight, 7:15 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network (out-of-market)

Saturday, May 13, 3:05 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, FS1

Sunday, May 14 (Mother’s Day!), 1:15 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network (out-of-market)