The Cardinals are 26-25, which isn’t all that great, but not totally surprising given expectations for a roughly 85-win team. The Cubs are 25-27, which is slightly worse, but is very surprising given expectations for a roughly 95-win team. The Cubs have lost six in a row, including a sweep at the hands of the lowly Padres. They come back home to host the Cardinals for a three-game set starting this afternoon.
The Cubs aren’t exactly in chaos, but a lot of the things that have gone right for them in the past aren’t going well this season. Dave Cameron recently discussed what was wrong with the Cubs and came up with three issues: young hitters not hitting, a slide in defensive play, and pitchers giving up too many homers.
Basically, everything went right for the Cubs last year, and this is a more normal mix of good and bad outcomes that most teams experience. There’s still plenty of upside with this Cubs roster, and it won’t be any surprise if they catch fire and finish strong over the last four months of the season. But this team also isn’t perfect, and with some guys struggling that weren’t expected to struggle, some of the holes have been exposed. Baseball is hard. Winning every year is hard.
That last part has to be pretty familiar to Cardinals’ fans who have become accustomed to seeing the Cardinals in the playoffs every year. Last season, the Cardinals just missed, and two months into the season, there is a very real risk it will happen again. The Cardinals have a talented team with a rotation that is currently dragging along an inconsistent bullpen, a struggling offense, a team that makes a lot of mistakes, and a manager who doesn’t understand what aggressive means:
“There are times when we get things right and times when we don’t,” Matheny said. “You’ve to to play this game aggressively. If you don’t play this game aggressively you don’t play at this level. That’s all there is to it. There are good decisions and there are bad decisions. Two different things. It’s not aggressiveness or lack or aggression, it’s usually wise and unwise. You can’t get those two things confused. Throwing to the wrong base – that’s not an aggressiveness vs. non-aggressive play. That’s just a right or wrong play. (There’s) learning that has to be done.”
A few weeks ago, the Cardinals took two of three in St. Louis at the start of what was a very difficult schedule. The Cardinals have thus far gone 7-11 in that stretch, and winning this series wouldn’t be a bad result over this stretch, especially given the Cubs and Cardinals proximity in the standings. The schedule eases up over the next month, and we will see if the team puts itself on solid footing to capitalize.
The group of Cubs the Cardinals will see this weekend is more or less the group the team saw a few weeks ago. Jason Heyward is back and has played pretty well over the last few weeks. The Cubs still haven’t quite figured out center field this season. Jon Jay plays some, Heyward has played there recently, but the team seems to have backed off a bit on the playing time of Albert Almora. Ian Happ could be the beneficiary of extra playing time in the outfield as the Cubs try to get their offense going.
Kyle Schwarber has been a disappointment this season, but like Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty, and Matt Carpenter, he appears to have gotten a bit unlucky, based on Statcast data. Anthony Rizzo hasn’t hit up to expectations, but he will probably fine. Addison Russell isn’t likely to be this poor of a hitter going forward. The Cubs are going to get better as the season goes on, but the Cardinals have yet to take advantage of the Cubs slow start.
This afternoon, salty bulldog John Lackey takes the mound for the Cubs. Lackey provides an interesting case why you should look at strikeout percentage instead K/9. Looking at K/9, it would appear Lackey is striking out more hitters, going from 8.6 last year to 9.4 this season. That hasn’t been the case. Lackey is walking more hitters and has given up hits at a much higher rate so that by percentage of batters faced, Lackey’s strikeouts have gone down slightly, from 24.1% to 23.3%.
The change in Lackey’s strikeout rate doesn’t really matter as far as Lackey’s skill level as he’s striking out roughly the same amount of batters, but to say he is striking out more hitters would be misleading. The same is true for walks, which appear to have gone up by quite a bit, but it’s actually pretty much the same at 7%. The 38-year-old righty has had a problem with homers, giving up 13 in just 10 starts, including five in his last three. Lance Lynn will pitch for the Cardinals. Dexter Fowler will receive his World Series ring this afternoon as well.
On Saturday, Jon Lester pitches for the Cubs. While David Ross is now forever a hero for some reason and was bascially on the team because Lester wanted him to be, Lester doesn’t seem to have declined much without Ross’ leadership. His 3.48 FIP is solid as usual, but a .324 BABIP has inflated the ERA slightly to 3.86. I would again implore the Cardinals to take a 25 foot lead off of first base against Lester and make him do something. The team is pretty cavalier on the bases anyway, so why not try to take advantage of an opponents clear weakness. Mike Leake takes the mound for the Cardinals.
On Sunday night, Kyle Hendricks goes for Chicago. In the early part of the season, Hendricks appears to have retained some of the batted ball magic from last year as his BABIP against is just .258. It’s everything else that has been a little off. His strikeout rate is down a few points from 23% to 20% while his walk rate has increased from 6% to 8%. His home run rate has nearly doubled leading to an average 4.22 FIP and with the batted ball mojo, his ERA is a decently above average 3.75 on the season.
Hendricks hasn’t walked anybody in his last two starts, the first two starts of the season where he hasn’t issued a free pass. He did give up homers in both games, limiting the Giants to two runs, but giving up five against the Padres. His velocity is still down by a decent amount, and its possible the increased usage due to long playoff runs has crept in a bit. Michael Wacha, who has looked somewhat tired himself the last two times out will pitch for the Cardinals.
Today, June 2, 1:20 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network
Saturday, June 3, 1:20 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest
Sunday, June 4, 6:35 pm CT, ESPN