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Series Preview 7/19-22: Cardinals at Cubs

A five-game series out of the All-Star break. Oh my.

Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The All-Star Game and its festivities are through, and 28 of 30 teams will enjoy another off day on Thursday before kicking off the second half of the season. The two teams not included in this narrative are the Cardinals and Cubs, who will begin a five-game series on Thursday night at Wrigley Field - highlighted by Saturday’s doubleheader.

Entering Thursday’s contest, the Cubs boast a 55-38 record - the best record in the National League and a .591 winning percentage that is the fifth-highest in the sport. Chicago leads the National League Central by 2 12 games over the 55-43 Brewers and 7 12 over the 48-46 Cardinals.

On Thursday, the Cardinals announced the other changes that resulted in the dismissal of Mike Matheny and appointing of Mike Shildt. Pop Warner is the new bench coach, but there is a twist: if Shildt were to be ejected, third base coach Jose Oquendo would take over as manager and coach third.

Kyle Hendricks and Carlos Martinez will take the mound in a 6:05 PM start in the series opener. With a team-high 19 starts, Hendricks enters his Thursday assignment with a 4.09 xFIP in 110 13 frames. After missing nearly two months in 2017 with hand tendinitis, the Cubs are glad to have a veteran like Hendricks in the rotation. At Wrigley this year, Hendricks has limited batters to a .207 average with 44 strikeouts in nine starts.

Martinez has a 4.58 ERA in 25 starts against the Cubs in his career. In 16 first-half starts, Martinez had a 3.08 ERA in 90 23 innings - even though he has allowed 20 earned runs in his last 37 innings. After missing three weeks with a lat strain from mid-May through early June, Martinez appears to have rebounded the injury and will look to set the tone for the Cardinals in the second half.

Friday’s game is a famous, 1:20 PM start North Side and will showcase a matchup of Jon Lester and Jack Flaherty. Lester is one of the best starting pitchers in the National League thus far in the year, entering Friday with a 2.58 ERA - the fourth-lowest in the league behind Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola, and Max Scherzer. Yadier Molina is 13-for-38 with three doubles in his career facing Lester, and Jedd Gyorko has three homers in 24 at-bats. Left-handed hitter Matt Carpenter is batting .150 (6-for-40) with 12 strikeouts against the left-handed hurler.

Flaherty has been one of the underrated, positive stories from the first few months of the season out of St. Louis. In his age-22 season, Flaherty has a 3.24 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP in 14 starts. Working exclusively in the Majors since mid-May, Flaherty has a 10.44 K/9 rate in 75 innings of big-league work this year. Friday’s start will be the second of Flaherty’s career against the Cubs and first at Wrigley Field. Flaherty held the Cubs scoreless in five innings back on 6/17.

In the first game of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader, Mike Montgomery will oppose Luke Weaver at 12:05 PM. Montgomery has pitched in 27 games for Chicago this year - 18 as a reliever and nine as a starter. Montgomery has the lowest walk rate of his career so far; he has a 2.96 BB/9, his lowest since a 3.42 he maintained with the Mariners and Cubs in 2016.

Weaver’s last two outings have been quality starts, his first since May. This will be Weaver’s third start of the year against the Cubs and the fifth of his career. Weaver has not fared well in his history against the Cubs, a team that is slashing .382/.442/.588 in 15 innings against the Cardinals’ 24-year-old right-hander.

The nightcap of Saturday’s ballgames will feature Tyler Chatwood and John Gant at 6:15 PM. Chatwood has allowed 17 earned runs over his last three starts, including seven on 6/30 against the Twins and seven on 7/7 against the Reds. Chatwood’s walk rate has soared, while his home run rate has lowered. With 73 walks in 84 innings, Chatwood leads the sport by a wide margin; Lucas Giolito of the White Sox is next in line, with 60 in 103 13 frames. Chatwood’s HR/9 is 0.75, his lowest since 0.40 in 2013 for the Rockies.

Gant has filled in well in the Cardinals’ rotation this year. In a dozen appearances (six starts and six games in relief), Gant has worked to a 3.49 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP across 49 innings. This will be Gant’s second career start against the Cubs - his first since June 2016 - and his first in Chicago.

Sunday’s series finale is set to have Jose Quintana up against Miles Mikolas at 1:20 PM. Quintana’s strikeout rate has lowered and his home run and walk rates have grown this season, his first full year with the Cubs. Quintana has made six starts against the Cardinals, a team he has a 2.81 ERA against in 32 innings. Former Cub Dexter Fowler is 5-for-14 with a double, a homer, and four runs batted in facing Quintana.

Mikolas will miss the first games of this series on paternity leave, as he and his wife welcomed twins earlier this week. Mikolas, elected to his first All-Star team this year, leads the Cardinals in nearly all pitching categories: in 119 13 innings, he has a 2.79 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP, and a .233 BAA in 19 starts - and has earned a win in 10 of them.