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Nothing the Cardinals do matters in this series against the Cubs, but I’d really rather the Cards beat them

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A completely meaningless September series, but for the right reasons.

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Well, this is a strange feeling. I did not write the series preview against the Brewers earlier this week, but this is the first official series preview that does not matter. The games do not matter. The Cardinals could do any combination of winning or losing and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. Maybe sweeping keeps them hot going into the playoffs, but the stats do not really back that up. A team coming into the playoffs hot does not mean anything more than a team coming into the playoffs cold.

Still though, it’s the Chicago Cubs and however lopsided the talent level has become at this point between the two teams, beating the Cubs is still fun. And all things being equal, I’d much rather keep the good performances coming than fall flat on the last series of the year. I intellectually knew that wins or losses would not impact the playoffs, but there’s the part of my brain that is still relieved they immediately won after one loss and they won’t be finishing the season on a five game losing streak.

And I’m also just satisfied at the nice round number of 90 wins. So I want to win at least one game. 92 or 91 or 90 wins are not meaningfully different for me, but I’d be disappointed if they finished at 89 wins. And it has nothing to do with a certain bet a certain commenter made by the way. 90 wins just feels like a lot more wins than 89 wins for... stupid brain reasons. As George Carlin might say, it’s a psychologically satisfying number. For me anyway.

The Old Newbies

If you scroll through the Cubs roster and look at their service time, you might be mistaken in assuming they had a bunch of 23 or 24 or 25-year-old players on their team. Because there is a significant lack of MLB experience on this club. And yet, they do not have a young team. They don’t really have an old team, but they do not have a young team. They have a roster full of players who are much older than players typically are with the level of experience they have.

They have SEVEN rookies on their active roster who are 27-years-old or older. That is not including 30-year-old Patrick Wisdom or 28-year-old PJ Higgins, both on the injured list. They have a 30-year-old starting CF in Rafael Ortega, who had just a shade over 1 year service time heading into this season. They have a further four 30-year-olds who haven’t even reached their first year of arbitration yet (not including the injured list, which has another guy who fits that description)

This is like the worst of both worlds. You don’t mind having a team of 26-31 year old players, but usually they come with some sort of MLB experience. Similarly, you don’t mind some fresh faces to the majors, but usually they are at least under 25. Nico Hoerner is literally the only player under 25 who is currently healthy.

Their starting rotation is bleak as hell

I know this kind of comes with the territory when you do a massive sell-off, but the starting rotation has no future members who will be on a good team. It’s genuinely hard to imagine the Cubs being good any time soon when you look at this rotation. You have Kyle Hendricks, who will probably continue dominating the Cards, but looks like the rest of the league has him figured out.

You have Adrian Sampson and Alec Mills, two guys there only because they have nobody better. You have Justin Steele, pretty much the rebuilding starter prototype: 26-year-old of course, will probably settle into a slightly below average pitcher. And I’ll assume Keegan Thompson is taking over for Zach Davies, who slides right next to Steele in the rebuilding tool kit. Adbert Alzolay looks like he can be a tweak away from being good at least. That’s about it. They don’t appear to have anyone in AAA, though I’m not well-versed on their farm. Fangraphs has a lot of starters ranked in AA, though only one in the top ten.

Matchups

Friday

Adbert Alzolay (4.66 ERA/4.67 FIP/3.64 xFIP) vs Dakota Hudson (4.91 ERA/2.89 FIP/4.81 xFIP)

I’m not real sure what’s going on with Alzolay. He has a very good K/BB ratio and gets a decent share of groundballs (45.4%). That’s why he has a good xFIP. On the other hand, he has a real bad longball problem. He’s allowed 25 HRs in 123.2 IP, meaning whether he pitches well or not tonight, he will probably allow a homer. Despite a HR/FB% at 22.3% for the season, his xERA is basically the same as his actual ERA (4.59). But this is why I said he’s the only one in the staff I could really see becoming a future piece.

Hudson will I guess be competing to be a member of the playoff rotation. He threw 3.2 IP last time out and about 61 pitches. You could probably fairly easily raise that to 70-80 pitches, if you wanted. Yeah in the playoffs, he’d be only able to go 4 innings, but I think that’s pretty much all you want from any of his competitors anyway. I don’t want J.A. Happ pitching to a batting order a third time in any playoff game.

Favorite - Wash

Adrian Sampson (2.87 ERA/5.78 FIP/4.67 xFIP) vs. Jon Lester (4.62 ERA/5.36 FIP/5.09 xFIP)

Sampson did have a good start against the Cardinals his last time out, but he also allowed two homers, had a .067 BABIP against and had a 4.47 xFIP. So his good start wasn’t even that good. Sampson has a pitching style that would fit in with the Cards: not many Ks, not many BBs, groundballs. He too has been prone to the home run, with 7 HRs in 31.1 IP this season.

Lester meanwhile has been smoke and mirrors with the Cards. He’s pitching essentially the exact same as he did with the Nationals but with the best defense in baseball behind him, his ERA is 4.13 instead of 5.02. But hey in the spirit of 2006, Jeff Weaver ended up pitching great in the postseason and who’s to say Jon can’t do the same. (Did you know Weaver kind of sucked for the Cards in the regular season cause I sure didn’t?)

Favorite: Lester

Alec Mills (5.09 ERA/4.38 FIP/4.29 xFIP) vs. Jake Woodford (3.88 ERA/4.68 FIP/5.14 xFIP)

Very interesting set of stats here. How you decide who the favorite is entirely depends on your preferred stat and whether or not you count team defense in a pitching matchup. I do not count team defense and I prefer advanced stats. At least when determining who the better pitcher is.

In the end, I’m going with the pitcher with the easily better projection, which when combined with having better advanced stats, makes it hard to not pick him. Though this is much closer to being a wash than being a clear favorite.

Favorite: Mills

Times

Friday - 7:15 CT

Saturday - 6:15 CT

Sunday - 2:15 CT