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Series Preview 9/28-30: Cardinals at Cubs

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And it all comes down to this..

MLB: San Francisco Giants at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

After dropping all three games against the Brewers at Busch Stadium over the week, the 87-72 Cardinals are in Chicago for a weekend series at Wrigley Field with the Cubs to close out the regular season. This heavy-stakes meeting will commence on Friday afternoon.

Entering play on Friday, the Cubs have a 93-66 record and hold a one-game lead over the Brewers for first place in the National League Central division. The Cubs and Brewers have both secured postseason spots; so, one will win the division, and the other will land the top Wild Card spot. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are in the hunt for the second Wild Card spot, currently held by the Dodgers by one game. The Rockies and Dodgers, with respective win totals of 89 and 88, are still very much in battle for the West crown. Like the Cubs/Brewers situation, one of those teams will win the division, but the other will have to strive for that second Wild Card spot, as neither team has yet secured a postseason berth.

In the first game of the three-game series between Chicago and St. Louis on Friday, Kyle Hendricks and Adam Wainwright will face off at 1:20 PM Central time. Hendricks has pitched like his 2016-self recently; over his last seven starts, Hendricks has a 1.55 ERA with a 36:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 13 career starts against the Cardinals, Hendricks has limited them to a .716 OPS.

For Wainwright, this will be his fourth start since returning from an elbow injury. The 37-year-old worked in to the seventh inning in his last start back on 9/22 against the Giants. As he enters a free-agent year, this could be the final start of Wainwright’s career as a Cardinal. He’ll get a chance to continue his control of some of the North Side’s sluggers, as Kris Bryant has a .188 average (3-for-16) and Anthony Rizzo has only two extra-base hits in 44 at-bats facing Wainwright.

The second game of the series is an early, 12:05 PM start on Saturday and will feature Cole Hamels and Miles Mikolas. Hamels has made 11 starts since coming to the Cubs from the Rangers back in late July, and this assignment is the lefty’s first against the Cardinals since 2016. In 69 13 innings for the Cubs this summer, Hamels has a 2.47 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Hamels has pitched especially well at Wrigley Field, allowing only six earned runs in 33 23 frames in Chicago.

Mikolas fired seven strong innings his last time out as he helped seal a sweep of San Francisco back on 9/23. It was Mikolas’ 19th quality start out of 31 this year. This will be Mikolas’ four start of the season against the Cubs. In the three outings (one in early May and two back-to-back at the end of July), Mikolas allowed just four runs over 18 innings.

The finale of the series and the regular season is set to display Mike Montgomery and Jack Flaherty at 2:20 PM. Remember, all 15 games around the league on Sunday will start at this time; it adds to the scoreboard-watching drama. This start will be Montgomery’s 19th of the season to pair with 19 relief appearances, and he has two of each against St. Louis this summer.

Flaherty will cap off what has been a dazzling rookie campaign. The 22-year-old will make his 28th start of the season and his third against the Cubs. Flaherty leads the Cardinals with a 10.86 K/9 rate, leading the staff with 179 strikeouts in 148 13 innings. Entering the weekend, Mikolas ranks second to Flaherty with 140 punchouts in 192 23 frames. We’ll see if this comes in to play facing a Cubs’ lineup that strikes out plenty. Ian Happ and Javier Baez each have more than 160 strikeouts at the dish in 2018.