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Cardinals should destroy the Cubs

A series preview

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve been reading our series previews this year, you know that they have relatively modest goals:

  1. Provide relevant information regarding the upcoming series.
  2. drain the world’s oceans, put the Cardinals in the playoffs with magic and superstition.

The Cardinals should destroy the Cubs.*

*With preview, .567 W%, a 92-win pace. Without preview, .448 W%, a 73-win pace

If you remove head to head games against the Cubs this year, the Cardinals are 77-63, an 89-win pace. If you remove the Cubs head to head games against the Cardinals this year, the Cubs are 76-64, an 88-win pace. Of course, the Cubs and Cardinals have played each other and the Cubs have run roughshod over the Cardinals in the won-loss column, winning 11 of 15.

Looking closer at these games, each side has won a blowout, the Cardinals with an 11-4 win, and the Cubs with an 8-2 win in the last series. The Cardinals also have 5-0 shutout win. The fourth-most lopsided game the teams have played this season was the Cubs 4-1 win a little over a week ago. In the other 11 games, the margin of victory was two runs four times and one run seven times.

In those seven on-run game, the Cubs have won six of seven, with the only Cardinals victory coming on Opening Day. The Cardinals have averaged 3.6 runs per game while the Cubs have averaged four runs per game. By Pythagorean record, the Cardinals are 7-8 against the Cubs this season. If that had happened, and would have with the Cardinals having just a 4-3 in those one-run games, the two teams would be tied going into this important series.

Yet here we are, with the Cardinals needing a sweep just to avoid watching the Cubs celebrate a division title at Busch Stadium (the Cardinals will be eliminated with one loss this series while the Cubs can clinch from the Brewers with one win by the Cubs and one loss for the Brewers or two wins by the Cubs). The odds of a Cardinals sweep are 5.7%. The probability of taking three of four is roughly 24%.

That means the odds of the Cardinals splitting or worse is 70%. If the Cardinals only split and then sweep the Brewers, they will need the Rockies to go 2-4 just to have the opportunity to have a one-game playoff against the Rockies to get to the Wild Card game. Winning three of four plus a sweep still requires the Rockies finish at .500 or worse. If the Cardinals really want to have a realistic shot at the playoffs, they need to sweep the Cubs. That’s why their playoff odds have dropped to 9.5% heading into this series. The Cardinals odds of running the table these last seven games is just 1.6%. That would probably get them to the playoffs.

As for the Cubs, they are doing fine. Addison Russell has taken the starting shortstop job back after injury. Javier Baez is now getting starts at second base with Ben Zobrist still there and the outfield situation is a bit complicated. Jon Jay has been playing nearly every day, whether in center field or left field. Ian Happ has been benched a bit after playing a bunch this season. Kyle Schwarber has gotten a few starts in the last week, but isn’t full-time. Jason Heyward hasn’t played against lefties. Albert Almora has gotten a shot in center field as well. That’s six outfielders for three spots, and if the Cubs clinch early in the season, predicting lineups should prove difficult, particularly with no Cardinals lefty starters.

The Cardinals will first face Jon Lester, who has struggled lately. The Cardinals did not face him last series with his last appearance against the Cardinals coming in July. Since that July start, where Lester was quite good, he has a 4.95 FIP and 6.17 ERA, with five quality starts in nine outings. Over his last three starts, he has 10 strikeouts and 11 walks, including no strikeouts in his last outing against the Rays. Luke Weaver gets the start for the Cardinals.

Jake Arrieta starts for the Cubs tomorrow. Arrieta has pitched much better in the second half of the season, failing to yield more than three earned runs in any of his last 13 starts though he has missed most of September with a hamstring strain. In his first start back, he went five innings against Milwaukee, striking out just two with a walk and a lone run coming off a solo homer. His velocity is still down a couple ticks from where it has been in past seasons, but he has done a better job managing with lower velocity in the second half than he did in the first. Carlos Martinez will pitch for the Cardinals.

On Wednesday, John Lackey will pitch for Chicago. In the last series preview against the Cubs, I said the following:

It’s hard to say what to expect from Lackey today other than loud curse words.

He was tossed out of the game in the fifth inning. Salt bulldog, indeed. Michael Wacha starts for St. Louis.

In the series finale, Kyle Henricks will start for the Cubs. This will be Hendricks’ fourth straight start against either the Cardinals or Brewers. In the first three, he has pitched 19.2 innings, striking out 18 and walking only four with a 3.25 FIP and 2.29 ERA. He pitched into the eighth against the Cardinals last time out, giving up only a solo homer to Matt Carpenter that got him removed with just four outs to go. Hendricks’ velocity has been down all season, averaging around 86 mph, but he’s been gaining the last few outings, nearly up to 88 mph though still short of last season. Lance Lynn will try to rebound from a very poor start.

Tonight, September 25, 7:15 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network

Tuesday, September 26, 7:15 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Midwest, ESPN

Wednesday, September 27, 6:08 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, ESPN

Thursday, September 28, 6:15 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest

Other series of note:

Marlins v Rockies

Reds v Brewers (starts tomorrow)