Cardinals-Cubs. Entering a late July series with the exact same record, tied in the standings. We’ve been here before. Usually both teams do not have losing records however. I’m guessing neither team expected to be in this position. The Cubs maybe. Their pitching issues were extremely easy to see coming. Cardinals had depth issues that have been exposed, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that nobody could have assumed what ended up happening. Worst case and all.
While it would technically be correct to say that both teams are coming off series wins against NL West teams, the situations are slightly different. The Cubs faced the absolutely dreadful Arizona Diamondbacks, winning the first two games but losing yesterday. The Cards faced the best team in the NL (he says with an extremely skeptical face) and after a bad initial game, won the next two with great pitching. None of this means anything of course. If the unpredictable and unmeasurable momentum factored in though, the Cards clearly go in with the advantage.
Willson Contreras has had a very good July, hitting for a 157 wRC+. He’s walking 15.6% of the time and only striking out 17.8% of the time. Good chance he walks a few times in the next few games. Javier Baez has a 170 wRC+ in July with what are for him good K/BB numbers (14 Ks to 3 BBs in 42 PAs), but he can mostly thank a .500 BABIP for that. Jason Heyward comes into town with a 137 wRC+ in July.
Pretty much every starter in the Cubs lineup is at least doing okay in July. I’m talking 90 wRC+ or better. Most of them have above average lines. Rafael Ortega has a good July off the bench, but it comes with a 33.3 K% and zero homers so you know just using up his BABIP luck.
Alec Mills, Tuesday’s probable starter, has been pretty great since moving to the rotation full-time with a 25:6 K/BB ratio and a 3.65 ERA. And honestly, Kyle Hendricks had a very bad start to the year, but kind of seems like he turned back into old Kyle Hendricks at some point. As we have witnessed when we’ve faced him. He has a 2.48 ERA in his last 12 starts with a 3.88 FIP.
Patrick Wisdom, who I’m not sure qualifies as a starter or not but will get a start or two, is cooler than being cool. He has not walked in July and has a 39.4 K%. He has somehow taken 33 PAs, hit two homers, and has a wRC+ of 49. That seems difficult to accomplish. But no walks will do that.
While he’s not exactly cold, Rizzo is having a very un-Rizzo like month. Well sort of. He’s been hit five times. That’s pretty Rizzo. But he’s walking just 4% of the time while striking out 26% of the time. Usually has a better approach than that. And after a promising start, Adbert Alzolay has allowed eight home runs in his last five starts since returning from the IL. He had a two per game pace until allowing none against the Diamondbacks.
Monday: Jake Woodford (4.62 ERA/6.57 FIP/5.68 xFIP) vs. Alec Mills (4.84 ERA/4.17 FIP/4.03 xFIP)
Alec Mills does not appear to be that great, but the 2021 version of him, if at all representative of who he is as a pitcher going forward, would be a basically average starting pitcher. Woodford.... is not that. Throw in that literally all the good relievers will or should be unavailable tonight and you got to think the Cubs are the overwhelming favorites in this game. Time for baseball to do it’s thing and get random. I literally think if the Cards win this game though, that they’re sweeping the series.
Tuesday: Johan Oviedo (5.09 ERA/5.30 FIP/5.36 xFIP) vs. Trevor Williams (5.51 ERA/4.90 FIP/4.01 xFIP)
Not exactly DeGrom vs Scherzer in this one. I’m not sure if Oviedo has been announced yet, but he’s my assumption. I actually think this is effectively a toss-up, Oviedo just has definitively worse advanced stats and worse projections. And honestly gut feeling, I can’t see him pitching well against the Cubs. Oviedo, at this current stage, either walks too many - and the Cubs have players who will take those walks - or he grooves pitches to avoid walking players. Sometimes the latter finds gloves, I just don’t think we’ll be that lucky.
Wednesday: Adam Wainwright (3.71 ERA/4.07 FIP/3.80 xFIP) vs. Kyle Hendricks (3.65 ERA/4.76 FIP/4.45 xFP)
As I said above, Hendricks in his last 12 starts has been Kyle Hendricks that we all know and hate (to face). Also, in general, Hendricks could have a 7.00 ERA coming to face the Cards and I think he’d shut them down still. Luckily, the Cards are throwing Wainwright, so maybe they can gut out a few runs and the pitching will shut them down.
Thursday: Kwang-Hyun Kim (2.87 ERA/3.76 FIP/4.62 xFIP) vs. Adbert Alzolay (4.59 ERA/5.02 FIP/3.81 xFIP)
Talk about two opposites on this one. Kim has an ERA completely at odds with his advanced stats and has a little bit of home run luck that may not be completely luck given where he plays half his games. Alzolay seems like he should be getting much better results, but has had bad home run luck that may not be completely luck given where he plays half his games. That said, both are playing at Busch and that should also benefit Alzolay. Nonetheless, Kim is the better bet.
Keys to the Series
Hit the ball: I’ve gotten very, very used to rooting for a team where the starter at least gave you a reasonable shot to win, and this was the case no matter who was pitching. I don’t feel like we have that team anymore. So it’s a weird adjustment to be entering series where the Cards aren’t necessarily facing the strongest pitchers, and still not feeling confident of the matchups because of who the Cards are using. And this happens almost every series now.
Thus, the Cards offense is just going to have to be there, especially tonight. They can’t really count on the starter going 6 and using the 3-4 stronger relievers every single game. It’s a strong strategy with the right starter and a rested bullpen. They don’t have either tonight. And the way to overcome that is to hit the ball and score lots of runs. If you score enough runs, it doesn’t matter how bad the pitching is. The Cards offense has it in them and this would be a good series to show it.
Shut down Ian Happ: When you’re figuring out the quality of the opponent, a good hitter like Kris Bryant is assumed to be good. So if he does well in this series, well the Cubs aren’t necessarily a better team, they’re the same team as the mediocre ones they are. Now if you take a 75 wRC+ hitter, and make him into the destroyer of worlds, the Cubs offense is a lot, lot scarier than it is on paper. And that’s what Ian Happ has done to the Cards. We can just not figure this guy out.
It’s so extreme that saying the Cardinals are why he’s still in the league may not actually be an exaggeration. He has a 1.041 OPS with 16 homers and 27 extra base hits in 189 PAs. That’s 51 homers in a full season. It’s absurd. Everyone else in the league has figured him out. It’s about time for the Cards to do so.
Destroy their souls and rip out their hearts. Seems pretty straightforward.
Monday - 7:00 CT, ESPN
Tuesday - 7:15 CT, Bally Sports
Wednesday - 7:00 CT, ESPN
Thursday - 6:15 CT, Bally Sports
So I guess we get two ESPN games this week. Let’s sweep em