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Cardinals should destroy the Cubs

A series preview

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals have been ahead or tied heading into the ninth inning in six of the seven games since the All-Star Break. That is a good sign for a competitive team hoping to surge toward a playoff run. That the Cardinals have won just three games since the All-Star Break while dropping four is not so good. If I had been told before the season that the Cardinals would be 3.5 games behind the Cubs heading into this series, I would have been pretty pleased. Now, not so much. The Cardinals should destroy the Cubs.*

With title, .541 W%, Without title, .448 W%.

Milwaukee’s lead over the Cubs is now a very precarious single game. Despite the Brewers’ good start, the Cubs have remained the favorites for the NL Central all season long and that the deficit is just a single game means the team should have no problem winning the division given the gap in talent level. In the standings, the Cardinals are chasing the Brewers, Cubs, Pirates, and perhaps the Rockies, and Diamondbacks, and technically the Braves, too.

In reality, the Cardinals are chasing the Cubs, and this road series will have huge ramifications not just in the standings but in terms of the Cardinals deciding whether to try and shrink the talent gap that currently exists between the Cubs and Cardinals. If we are sitting here on Monday morning and the Cardinals are 6.5 behind the Cubs, the odds of the Cardinals making the playoffs will be very small and only a seven-game win streak against the Rockies and Diamondbacks could save the season.

If, by some chance, the Cardinals were a mere half-game behind the Cubs on Monday morning, the Cubs will still be favored to win the central, but the Cardinals will have a reasonable shot at both the Cubs and maybe the Wild Card. It’s hard to keep things at even keel when the team is three games below .500 and can’t seem to get out of their own way, but the Cardinals still have a shot.

As for the Cubs, Kris Bryant might not be able to play this weekend due to a strained pinkie from when he dove headfirst on a steal attempt at third. Javier Baez is starting at third today. While Joe Maddon is famous for moving players around and getting everybody playing time, an injury to Bryant might limit that. Ben Zobrist, who isn’t having a great year, is at second. Addison Russell, who also has not had a good year, is at short.

With Zobrist unable to moonlight in the outfield, that should put Jason Heyward in right and Kyle Schwarber in left. Rookie Ian Happ has been pretty much the everyday center fielder with Albert Almora and Jon Jay getting pushed to the back a bit. Heyward has hit well of late, so we will see if that continues this weekend. Also, Willson Contreras is having quite the year. It’s a shame the players didn’t think he was good enough to make the All-Star team and chose someone else.

As for the pitching matchups, Jake Arrieta will start this afternoon. Arrieta has struggled this year, losing a bit of velocity and turning from a ground ball pitcher to a fly ball pitcher and has given up a lot of home runs. He’s gotten more ground balls his last three starts, but still gave up homers in two of those starts and with 12 strikeouts and seven walks in 19.1 innings, he hasn’t exactly been dominant. Carlos Martinez will go for the Cardinals.

On Saturday, Jon Lester takes the mound for the Cubs. Lester has been good, but not great this year even before the 10-run disaster (only four of the runs counted toward his 4.07 ERA) in his last start before the All-Star Break. He rebounded in his last start, pitching seven strong innings with six strikeouts, one walk and just one run. It was against the Braves, but that’s a good start regardless of the competition. The lefty got a pickoff by actually throwing to first base in his last start against the Cardinals so I guess its time to be a bit more careful when trying to steal against him. Adam Wainwright will pitch for St. Louis.

Jose Quintana will make his home Wrigley Field debut on Sunday night for the Cubs. Quintana had some bad luck earlier this season with homers, but he appears to have gotten back on track. Since two disastrous outings at the end of May, Quintana has been great, striking out 30% of batters, walking 9%, which is still a bit high for him, and giving up four homers in 47 innings. He struck out 12 with no walks in seven shutout innings in his first Cubs start against the Orioles. Michael Wacha gets the call for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have made a few roster moves as Carson Kelly, Randal Grichuk, and Zach Duke are all returning to the team. Magneuris Sierra and Sam Tuivailala were sent down as was Eric Fryer. Duke was on the 60-day disabled list and is taking Fryer’s spot on the 40-man.

Our own John Fleming helped preview the series over at Bleed Cubbie Blue and I talked with Aaron Boone to preview the Sunday night matchup on ESPN.

Today, July 21, 1:20 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network

Saturday, July 22, 3:05 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, FS1

Sunday, July 23, 7:05 pm CT, ESPN